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Case Against Faith
Chapter 1: Since Evil and Suffering Exist, A Loving God Cannot
Is the "problem of evil" a real problem? I don't think it is, and Glenn Miller has noted here (sub-essay one, notably) that several prominent philosophers, including atheists, have come to agree.
Since Miller's essay covers much of what we might say to Jacobsen here, our own response to what he says of comments by Peter Kreeft will be substantively reduced. Kreeft's chapter of course is a highly condensed response.
To begin, Jacobsen responds to Kreeft's analogy of a bear in a trap who does not realize that the person freeing him (and therefore causing greater pain the process) is in fact trying to help. The bear's knowledge and understanding is limited; likewise, human knowledge and understanding is limited, or as I might say, we lack a "long view" to see that present suffering is for the greater and later good. To this Jacobsen replies:
- "...why would God have made us so inferior to him such that, from His perspective, we are like the bear?"
I find this response peculiar. Presumably Jacobsen is not suggesting that God could make us as omniscient as He is, by nature. But either way this is not so much as a rebuttal to Kreeft's analogy or argument as it is an objection that we are in the position at all. In essence it is not rebutting the reason for the suffering, but objecting that we don't know the reason.
I see no reason why it is a problem that we have been made without omniscience or sufficient knowledge (it is rather subjective); beyond that, we have the rational faculties to form reasonable hypotheses as to why any particular episode of suffering might be beneficial to us, or else, to be able to make use of any such experiences to improve ourselves.
There is no reason to object that we are "inferior" or to ask for "more understanding" other than one's own subjective satisfaction.
- "It sounds like we are like 'pets' to God," it is also said.
I wonder if Jacobsen would say the same of ancient imagery in which the king was compared to a shepherd (see here) and the people to sheep.
Jacobsen says, "you'd think God would want more of a peer-level relationship." I don't "think" that at all, actually; if anything, I would think that God would want a variety of relationships of varying levels, with the lower-level relationships giving Him a greater opportunity to share His love with those who need it most.
Analogous to pets? Perhaps so. I own a little dog I love a great deal. He follows me everywhere in the house, responds immediately to my commands, and is totally dependent on me. I also take delight when he learns new things on his own and responds to the care I give him.
If one takes offense to being compared to a "pet" of God then perhaps one needs to turn it around: God's relationship with us is not like that of pets, but rather, our care for pets is a microcosmic reflection of God's relationship with us.
- Jacobsen says that if we are like the bear, "then God can hardly blame us if we come to conclusions consistent with our level of comprehension any more than we can blame the bear for coming to conclusions consistent with its level of comprehension."
He can't? This is where Jacobsen takes Kreeft's analogy farther than it was intended. The bear obviously had no prior experience with the hunter, as we would with God. Here Kreeft's case would be developed with a positive case for the broad and positive influence of God on the lives of people, and the truth of Christianity.
Of course this chapter would have been no place to re-invent that wheel, but it is enough in context to point out that Jacobsen's reply breaks down upon his attempt to take the analogy further than intended.
I would also note that when Jacobsen says, "God seems to blame us for not understanding," he needs to provide more depth to substantiate this point. I know of no evidence that God "blames" anyone for any such thing, and certainly not universally; but perhaps Jacobsen can provide examples, and if he does, they should involve persons a) whose prior experience of God was not such that they should have known by reputation what God's purposes were; b) who received a direct condemnation from God for having such misdirected thoughts.
His one example hearkens back to Templeton's illustration of a starving child, and Jacobsen asking why he himself must be "blamed" for concluding that God was working to the benefit of the people in question, but I presume God has not spoken to Jacobsen lately for otherwise he would not be writing Case Against Faith.
Furthermore, Kreeft's bear analogy is more directed towards a general principle of toleration of suffering than it does to the specific example offered by Templeton.
Jacobsen then jumps over several pages (from 32 to 46) and restarts here:
Kreeft further discusses the issue of the mother's suffering and says, "Why doesn't he send the rain? God's answer is the Incarnation. He himself entered into all that agony, he himself bore all of the pain of this world, and that's unimaginable and shattering and even more impressive than the divine power of creating the world in the first place." Um, that's all fine and good Dr. Kreeft, but why didn't God send the rain? I'm aware of the fact that Christians believe that Jesus carried the weight of all of man's sins to the cross, and Jesus suffered in hell to pay for our sins. But why didn't God send the rain? The point I'm trying to make, obviously, is that Dr. Kreeft didn't answer the question. If God cares so much for our pain that He is willing to take on our pain Himself, why does God not simply decrease our pain?
I have to say in response that Kreeft DID answer the question -- the matter is simply that Jacobsen did not get the response he wanted: "God is intimately involved in the act of creating a world of suffering. He didn't do it -- we did it -- yet he did say, 'Let this world be.'"
In other words, as I have said to Templeton in my own reply: God did do something about this situation, and He did it long ago. He gave us the sense and the ability to grow more than enough food to feed people when drought strikes. But when it gets down to tacks, most of us are just too foolish or involved in our own sinful, petty concerns to take the needed steps.
There's plenty of food aid coming to people like this -- but it's being used by corrupt leaders to buy limousines and air conditioned offices. Beyond this, drought and fires play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance of our biosphere. They are also not new phenomena to us. The problems emerge not because of the drought itself, but because we don't manage our appointed stewardship correctly.
It is out of order to blame God for our house burning down when we don't practice proper land management (i.e., controlled fires), especially after we have repeatedly seen other houses burn down. It is out of place to blame God for not stopping the drought when we know that drought regularly reoccurs as part of the ecological process, and that it is wise to prepare for such eventualities. Indeed we don't even need any particular prior experience to practice responsible stewardship.
To ask God to "decrease our pain" is unwarranted -- God gave us all that was needed to keep our pain at a minimal level; what we need to do is be industrious and put it to use.
Finally I would note that if we all followed the pattern of the early church -- collective reinforcement and provision -- no more such problems as starving persons would exist.
Now Jacobsen is aware of this sort of point, but merely dismisses it later on: "...the people starving in Africa are completely unable to provide for themselves. They are completely dependant on aid or they die. But God could solve the problem, or at least mitigate it a great deal, by sending more rain. Is this really too much to ask of a compassionate, miracle-working God?"
Yes, it is, quite frankly. I would seriously question whether such persons are completely dependent (no man is an island, as is often said; we are far more interdependent than we realize) and if God sends more rain, and the corrupt leaders merely steal the crops grown to feed their armies, will Jacobsen next ask why God didn't step in and stop the armies from taking the crops?
Then why should God stop there? Why not demand God's touch in every level of order? God is capable of this; it is not as though He would set priorities and not be able to do one thing and not the other.
And that is where the "free will" issue enters with a resounding crack. Does Jacobsen wants God constantly looking over his shoulder and stopping him before he commits some sinful act? As with Templeton's objection, this is a response that takes a too-narrow focus, presumes self-omniscience to question omniscience, and seeking only immediate release from the immediate problem with no conception of working out matters in the long term, and demanding that God only selectively interfere where His hand is desired.
I know that Jacobsen and others are intelligent enough to think these things through -- they are not like the bear in this respect, but ironically they seem content to remain "bears" in their contemplative exertions.
Jacobsen asks, "...what about the child? What value did the child get out of his/her suffering? Did he/she ever have a chance to learn from it? Will it do him/her any good in heaven? Seems unlikely."
That "seems" passes by with incredible speed, for one not gifted with omniscience, but let's pause for a moment rather than nestling like bears in our caves. We have said no man is an island, and what happens to woman and child does not occur in isolation. What would Jacobsen say if he were told that the child's death by starvation served as the one and only possible impetus for five other persons to not starve, or to save dozens of other people from starvation and death at a later date? What if a descendant of one of those persons went on in the year 2030 to make a stunning scientific discovery that benefited millions? What if he were told that had the child lived, it would have gone on to become the next Idi Amin, taking pointless revenge on its countrymen?
A bear who wants to remain a bear in his cave is the only one who settles for saying, "[i]t seems to be just pointless suffering." Unless Jacobsen has devised a Turtledove time machine and has worked out the implications of all possible worlds, sitting at his computer second-guessing theoretical omniscience is the province of emotional, reactive outrage lacking rational basis. He has no rational argument against these points to make; emotional rhetoric like, "this really too much to ask of a compassionate, miracle-working God?" are not an answer, but a way to obfuscate the lack of an answer by appeal to the emotions.
Jacobsen may call these points "ad hoc" but if they are, so likewise is his argument that any suffering was ultimately pointless.
Next Jacobsen considers Kreeft's point that "the complete elimination of evil would require the elimination of free will and the chance for true love" and that "a world without suffering appears more like hell than heaven." Here he actually goes backwards in the book (to page 42) and Kreeft's illustration of a criminal who romps about a heaven-like place where he is free to indulge his unsavory habits, and becomes bored because no one stops him from indulging himself. It is later revealed that he is actually in hell, not heaven. Jacobsen responds:
If Kreeft believes that an Earth without pain and suffering would be like hell, what exactly does Kreeft believe heaven is like? Is there evil in heaven, or no free will and no love? Do Satan, Hitler, Stalin, etc. run around heaven causing random acts of pain and suffering in heaven so that we aren't bored all the time?
Jacobsen has missed the point of Kreeft's illustration. The point is rather that the criminal (or Satan, or Hitler, or Stalin) is not stopped from what he is doing, and that is because all suffering has been withdrawn from him. Kreeft's illustration points out that suffering is often an instrument limiting our own impulses and in refining character; without it, as he says, we become "impossibly spoiled little brats".
It is as I have said elsewhere in a similar vein: "If the nature of plants was changed to keep men busy and to keep his idle hands out of the devil's workshop, as the popular proverb goes, and if it is obvious that God takes steps to restrain our evil preventatively, then it is within the paradigm to understand 'natural evil' likewise as a restraining influence. It is a way to keep us busy helping each other rather than having the leisure to be depraved and as evil as we can be."
Jacobsen next turns to Kreeft's argument that without God, there is no absolute definition of what is evil or not evil. On this Jacobsen admits, "It is true that if there is no God, there is no ultimate definition of what is 'good' and what is 'evil'." But he replies:
But the fact that we have concepts "good" and "evil" does not necessarily prove there is God making such definitions. For example, there is no absolute definition of "hot". And yet, from our biological perspective, we can judge what is "hot" and what is not "hot". Similarly, "pain", if there is no God, then there is no ultimate meaning as to whether "pain" is "good" or "bad". Yet we are biologically wired to interpret "pain" as "bad".
Where Jacobsen's reply fails is in that determining "hot" and "pain" in these ways is not a means of personal interaction as it is when determining "good" or "evil". It may indeed be subjective to an extent (i.e., some may be more heat-tolerant than others) but the hot object does not know or care if it is hot; and you cannot argue with it and tell it to stop being hot and tell it why it ought not be hot. If Jacobsen takes this analogy too far, he will make good and evil merely biological and reduce accepted behavior down to a matter of "survival of the fittest" -- which in fact is what he goes on to do, saying that "our concepts of 'good' and 'evil'" are "simply conceptualizations" of certain "biological functions."
What then to say to a murderer whose "biological functions" govern his "concepts" of good and evil? What to the dictator who decides that self-indulgence is "right" for him and that if he can make it with might, he is right? If his kind becomes biologically prominent, their might becomes "right".
Jacobsen pleads, "Please do not think that I'm comfortable with my assessment" and professes that he'd prefer a universal concept of good and evil. However, he claims that "if God really has defined a universal concept of 'good' and 'evil', He hasn't done a good job of communicating it to us," and refers the matter to Chapter 7. I did not find much there on this, but we will address such as we do find, below.
Turning away from the suffering issue now, Jacobsen turns to a matter of free will and why God does not reveal Himself to a greater extent. Jacobsen tells us that the answer of such extended revelation violating free will "doesn't make sense to [him]" and replies:
Christians often say that if we had absolute proof of God's existence, then we really would not be free to choose or not choose Him. But I've got absolute proof that my wife exists, and this isn't a problem. I can still choose whether I want her or not. So, why is necessary for us to not have absolute proof of God's existence? And what about Satan? Satan, when he chose to rebel against God, had absolute proof of God's existence. And yet he was still free to choose to not follow God. So, again, why is it necessary for humans to not have absolute proof of God's existence?
Jacobsen has oversimplified the matter. Let us put it this way. Any worthwhile revelation of God will need to do more than show that God merely exists. A sign in the sky, "I, God, exist", says little.
The matter is not simply proof that God exists, but proof of who or what He is and what He has done. Thus the comparison to Jacobsen's wife would be, would he want her, or would she want him, to have forced affections upon the other when they first met? Would he have approved of a shotgun wedding where he was dragged off in chains? There is a chance that such a relationship might become profitable someday, but I know of very few people who would want their choices forced in that matter or who would not later resent being dragged in. Is that a free and loving relationship?
That leaves the matter of Satan. Since we have no available insights into Satan's personal psychology, it's hardly cricket to hoist that example and demand an explanation, but keep in mind that ours is a perspective of "born without, needing to get in" while Satan's was a case of "born within, and defiantly got out." And in that respect, we do argue that humans are just as capable of rejecting God at a later date (see here).
Jacobsen then objects with these questions:
- "If somebody's earthly father moved to another country and left no forwarding address, but left a few clues lying around as to where to find him, would we consider this earthly father worthy of going to find?"
If that "somebody" had from the very beginning told the father to get lost, and not interfere with somebody's life ever, and flagrantly violated regulations the father left (which were, actually, quite clear to anyone willing to take a little time to read and in some cases understand), who is the one with a "worthiness" problem?
- "If this human father got mad because some of his children didn't dedicate their lives to finding this guy, would we not consider this human father rather off his proverbial rocker?"
Perhaps, but it does not take one's whole life "dedicated" to find. It takes very little effort, in fact, to "find" (though more to "serve" and in that respect, one would be insane not to serve one who had given the tremendous gift of eternal life).
- "Is not the love of a child for a father that does not hide, and directly cares for the child actually more rational than loving the father that runs and hides and gets mad if you don't find him?"
In all of this it is pretended that the child was as much as just sitting around playing with toys when Dad got up on his own accord and went deadbeat. That is not the case, and Jacobsen's analogy is therefore a flawed premise, much akin to Kreeft's example of the impossible spoiled brat.
On the point where Kreeft calls atheism "snobbish" and "elitist" because "more than 90% of all human beings that have ever lived believe in God," Jacobsen replies that "beliefs that were held as unquestionable by the majority have been proven false."
While that is so, it would have been more relevant had Jacobsen then gone on to deal with Kreeft's other works where he adduced 20 positive arguments for God's existence. That Kreeft here casts lots with Buddhist, Hindus and pagans is of no relevance -- versus atheism, all of these stand together and Jacobsen should be more civil than to imply that Kreeft is somehow compromising when he joins forces with these others. *There are items where Jacobsen does apparently deal with some such arguments, but these do run out of our scope.)
In close, Jacobsen declares that he is "reticent to quote scripture. As soon as I do, someone will claim that I'm quoting out of context, or using a translation that doesn't accurately represent the original words, etc. And since I'm not an expert at biblical interpretation, I'm really not qualified to debate such a line of argument."
This proves to be self-fulfilling. We are told that:
Kreeft insists that God is all-good, and only created the opportunity for evil. But there are at least a few Bible quotes that seem to say that God in fact does evil: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things (Isaiah 45:7 KJV) Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. (1 Samuel 16:14 NIV)
In both verses the word "evil" is ra. While this word does indicate moral evil in some places, as Kreeft uses the word "evil," it also means "adversity" and words of similar nature. In Isaiah, note the antithesis in the first part of the verse from Isaiah: light/darkness. The second part of the verse must also be therefore reckoned as an antithesis. The word we translate "prosperity" is a familiar one: shalom. We commonly translate this word "peace" - but it is NEVER used to indicate moral goodness, the antithesis of moral evil.
We must therefore translate ra in terms of its specified antithesis, and that is why it is thoroughly proper to give it the meaning of calamity/disaster/adversity here. The spirit against Saul is likewise an adversarial one -- in both cases, ra is implied to be a restraining influence, an adversarial influence, on someone's moral evil. If anything these verses illustrate Kreeft's point about the criminal in the heaven-like hell and the need for "natural evil" or suffering as a restraining influence.
In close, Jacobsen wonders why there was no discussion of Satan in the book or this chapter, but like any author Strobel had to pick and choose what would fit and what was in highest demand.
Objection 2: Since Miracles Contradict Science, They Cannot be True
Next up, the interview with William Lane Craig. Portions of this chapter deal with theistic evidences beyond our scope, and on these points we will not reply to Jacobsen's commentary.
Jacobsen allows that if God did "create all of the physical laws, He certainly could suspend them if He saw fit."
I would add to this a certain point: I do not consider miracles any more of a "suspension" of natural law than one of us picking up a box is a "suspension" of the law of gravity. There is no miracle attributed to God in the Bible (other than perhaps ex nihilo creation) that is not a matter of something we could do with the right technology and enough energy. Therefore it is a false start to speak at all of miracles as "suspensions" or violations of natural law.
Note 1/27/05 -- Jacobsen has (it seems) updated his reply on this point and now offers an analysis not far from my own, merely criticizing Craig's imprecision, which I do not dispute of necessity, though I consider the critique inappropriate for a popular work.
Jacobsen begins by addressing Craig's retort that "an honest investigator should include all options, including supernatural explanations, in the 'pool of live options' to explain an event." To Craig's first sub-point on this, Jacobsen replies:
So, if you allow supernatural explanations into the pool of options, how do you determine whether or not a supernatural event occurred? Craig offers his ideas on this. First, he says, "you would have to investigate to see if something cannot be accounted for in terms of the natural forces that were operable at that time and place." The problem is, how can you know this for sure? How can you know that you have in fact accounted for all the natural forces that were operable at that time of a purported miracle? For example, if something appears to be levitating and defying the laws of gravity, and you cannot find any natural force to account for it, how do you know that you haven't missed something?
How is this determined? For one thing, it should only be considered a "live option" if some above-nature being takes credit for the act, as happens in the Bible.
A Skeptic once argued that serious historians do not claim that, i.e., our WW2 victory over Japan was the work of a deity. That is so, but no deity has claimed responsibility for the act, and the events in question (unlike levitation or loaves and fishes) were not beyond the ability of natural, manmade causes. Therefore, while it is of course theoretically possible that some unknown force or forces -- whether a deity, an alien, or some human organization otherwise unknown -- "pulled strings" for WW2 undetected and unclaimed, to just say, "how do you know" is of no point, and likewise, to insist we must account for "all the natural forces" is like saying we need to exonerate all other possible terrorists before we can finger Osama bin Laden.
As for that floating object, it does not speak, presumably, and if no one has left a note behind, what does Jacobsen suggest? "Causes -- unknown" would be my choice. But if God said from the clouds, "I'm holding it up," would Jacobsen be satisfied that God was behind it?
For this reason, Jacobsen's example of lightning is beside the point. Lightning flashes do not come with attached messages claiming responsibility; that was merely assumed by those who do a "God of the gaps" theory. The miracles Craig speaks of are not open for "God of the gaps" explanations, but were those performed by God and His prophets, and were not usually so far removed (like lightning) such that one could attribute the matter to some other natural cause, or to coincidence; they are also so distinctive that it would take bias or cockeyed explanations to say that they might be explained away naturally (once one is past the usual charges of lying about what happened).
By the same token, Jacobsen's proposed defendant who blames Satan for a murder lacks one thing he needs: Satan's own testimony that he did it. (Not that it would work for me as a preterist, either!)
This is more or less what Craig means when he speaks of a need for a "religio-historical context" (and he uses it more for the sake of identifying an event as a candidate for a miracle, rather than using it circularly as proof).
It is not enough for Jacobsen's proposed defendant to claim that he was appointed by God and Satan was out to get him. Oh, really? Then convict him and let God break him out of jail like Peter. Maybe God wants the man in prison for a reason -- tell him that and see what happens. It's very easy to defeat claims of "religious significance" like that one.
Jacobsen then asks, "...doesn't God do miracles that don't have any particular religious significance? For example, does God ever do a supernatural intervention to save somebody's life?"
I happen to think not; and I think those who say so are in error and need to step to the plate with proof. In any event, with respect to the miracles Craig is most concerned with, like the Resurrection, this is obviously not a matter of issue. Jacobsen also asks about Satan -- as a preterist, I think Satan is bound and not participating in anything.
That said, Jacobsen allows, "...I concede that I cannot prove that supernatural events do not exist. If they do exist, I argue that verifying them is problematic--but they could still exist." He then moves to discuss miracles of Jesus. It is first said:
Craig, unsurprisingly, argues that the miracles of Jesus were indeed genuine miracles. He says, "if you believe God exists, then there is no good reason to be skeptical about these events." Hmm. Jews and other non-Christian theists would beg to differ, don't you think? I think the events need to be examined for validity whether or not you believe in God already.
I think here as well Jacobsen misses Craig's point, which is that once you admit that God exists, you cannot reject a miraculous explanation on the grounds of there being no one who can perform the miracles. Obviously Jews, et al could disagree, but not for the specific reason of, "miracles are not possible," which is the point and title of this chapter. Jews, et al would agree that God could resurrect Jesus, but would say that God did NOT do it (or as in the case of Pinchas Lapide, that God did do it, but that it meant something other than what Christians claim).
Jacobsen says of the rez and the healing in John 9, and the claim by Craig that there is more evidence for the former than the latter, "Nonsense. There is one source of evidence for both events--the Bible. One sentence or a thousand pages is still the same amount of evidence!"
I think Jacobsen needs to recognize that Craig has written several books on the Resurrection explaining the evidence, examining arguments, and dealing with the data; as have I (see here for example) and others. His "nonsense" reply is too pre-emptory and unwarranted until he deals with what is offered therein.
Jacobsen defers discussion on matters of the Gospels as independent sources, acknowledging his lack of expertise.
Now on the matter of "the Resurrection is an extraordinary event and therefore it requires extraordinary evidence." Jacobsen is aghast that Craig denies this, and does point out a flaw in Craig's lottery analogy that is similar to a flaw I pointed out in atheist George Smith's reasoning (see here). Nevertheless what stands above all of this is detailed arguments for the Resurrection that are not present in CAF but found in other works by Craig and others. Jacobsen should grant Craig some leeway for being pressed to create an analogy in an on-the-spot interview.
It is after this that Jacobsen deals with Craig's theistic proofs, and here as well that out comments end as they go beyond out scope. I would only note in closing that we have our own reply to the work of Doherty that Jacobsen recommends (see here) and several pieces and reading recommends dealing with the Resurrection.
Objection 3 is beyond our scope.
Objection 4: God Isn't Worthy if He Kills Innocent Children
This chapter offers Strobel's talk with Norman Geisler, and I will confess from the start that I am not happy with who Strobel chose to speak to on this subject. I would have rather seen him talk to Glenn Miller of the Christian ThinkTank, who has written numerous articles on this subject offering a wealth of detail about the social world of the OT and conditions that apply to this question: for example here, here, and here.
Geisler offers nothing of this level of detail, so responding to Geisler's pat comment of there being "no cruel or tortuous executions" ordered by God by quoting passages from the OT offering what he believes are just that is, if incomplete itself, at least up to obligation for CAF.
Miller's articles go into the depth on these particulars that Geisler plainly lacks, and answer all of Jacobsen's questions (such as, "How did they know which girls were virgins?" -- the general answer, "By dress." -- and "Just how bad were those Canaanites?" -- answer, worse than Jacobsen thinks.) If Jacobsen thinks any of what Miller offers are "lame excuses" he will need to put himself in the shoes of inhabitants of the ANE and explain why. It is clear from his request for "better solutions" such as finding homes for the children of these people that he has not considered in detail the type of world and the conditions these people lived in.
So what does that leave us? Jacobsen asks for one:
And another thing to note in the Deuteronomy account, the reason God gives for His order of the killings is that He is afraid that the Israelites will learn the evil ways of their enemies. Whatever happened to free will? I thought God's people were expected--demanded--to resist the influence of evil. Here, God doesn't trust His people to resist evil and finds that a good reason to exterminate people!
What happened to free will? Well, here's the rub: The principle of free will does NOT claim that God will NEVER step in like this, but that His stepping in will only be to the minimal amount required in order to achieve His purposes. To put it in sum, God can logically save no one unless he tells someone how to be saved. This logically requires Him to reveal Himself and technically violate someone's free will.
Of course to ensure that everyone has that fair shot at being saved may require more than this; here, the paradigm would state that God needed to establish a people on earth to host the Messiah, and His message, and had He not destroyed the Canaanites, this would not have been possible. The free will issue involves a balance which must be struck: one may of course argue that the balance is uneven, but here again, as noted in Chapter 1, one must essentially assume omniscience of all historical alternatives.
It is next written: "[Geisler] argues that the Canaanites were simply beyond salvation. This seems to contradict what I understand to be a fundamental tenant of Christianity--that everyone is loved by God, even if He hates their sin; and that everyone has the potential to see their sins, repent, and be saved." I
am not sure where Jacobsen gets the idea that this is a "fundamental tenet of Christianity" -- the second part, at least. That everyone is loved by God is held (per John 3:16) but "everyone has the potential to see their sins, repent, and be saved" is not, unless Jacobsen speaks here theoretically. If so, it needs to be added that this also includes the idea that despite that potential, there are those who will NOT ever see their sin, repent, and be saved. Further development on this point we have done here.
Jacobsen continues, "And is it not likely some of God's precious Israelites were killed in battle?"
It is more than likely; it is acknowledged to have happened, but here again Jacobsen falls for the same "temptation" as in Chapter 1: "Seems like God could come up with a better way to get rid of the Canaanites without risking lives of Israelites, and without all the warring and bloodshed. How about a one-way force-field that would keep anybody God doesn't like out of the Holy Land, but not impede God's precious favored people?"
Well, certainly, why not? Why not also the same at Waterloo, Gettsyburg, and Dunkirk? And why not also force fields that would keep us from sin? Why not have God hovering over us every moment? Once Jacobsen starts that ball rolling, he's asking for interference in every area of his life and no free will to speak of. Requests like these are the product of emotional reaction, not reason.
The principle again is minimal interference -- moreover, could Jacobsen predict what sort of people the Israelites would be if they were thus invincible in battle? Can he contemplate what that might do to the national character of the Israelites? This needs to be addressed, for otherwise merely throwing out suggestions like these is thoughtless reactionarianism.
Jacobsen expresses surprise at Geisler's answer that children were killed as an act of mercy, for they would be eternally saved. This is not an argument I would use myself in this context (while agreeing that such children would indeed be so saved), but I will nevertheless offer answers to Jacobsen's questions:
- "First of all, when exactly does one reach the age of accountability? I've never heard a very satisfactory answer to this. The only answers I've heard are along the lines of, 'it differs for every individual and God knows when you are old enough to decide your fate.'" This is true; why is it "unsatisfactory"?
Here again as in Ch. 1 Jacobsen is objecting not to the answer itself, but to his lack of knowledge and inability to know the minds and hearts of every individual. Why should it matter to (and really, why should it be the concern of) Jacobsen whether anyone but himself has the ability to be accountable at any particular time and place?
Jacobsen supposes we might pick 18 as an "average" age of accountability, but I reply that the calendar has little if anything to do with it. Moreover, one may pass such a point of accountability in some areas of life before passing it with others. With respect to the Gospel, some may be accountable by 12 or 13 (I would have been!); others by 18, others by 21 or 25.
I find it very unlikely that anyone would need more time than that, barring unusual circumstances (such as a mental disorder). Trying to cloud the issue by saying that "maturation [is] a gradual, lifelong process" does not address the matter. There is clearly always a point at which one is obliged to make a rational and informed decision on any matter.
- It is said, "And, if killing a child can in any circumstance be better than to let the child live, what does that say about the value of life on Earth? Christians frequently claim that atheism degrades the value of human life. But isn't this theology doing exactly that? Isn't it saying that the children were better off having no life on Earth because they will have a better life in heaven?"
This is one reason why I do not use the argument as Geisler has formulated it. Rather the matter would be framed in terms of what accomplishes the greater good. Here, as Miller's articles show, letting such children live would if anything amount to a greater cruelty, as well as a long-term danger to others -- and note well his points that ancient persons agreed with this view.
If Jacobsen seeks an analogy, he may consider modern arguments for voluntary euthanasia. The ANE's values had within the structure certain conditions under which it was considered better to be dead than alive.
- Jacobsen also presents Geisler's reply to Strobel asking why it is not logical to therefore support abortion. Geisler notes that only God has the right to decide such things, and that our culture is not as corrupt as those destroyed. To this I would add that the social options available have changed significantly.
But as to Geisler's response, Jacobsen says he does not find it "satisfactory" and does not actually answer, nor does he do so when he brings forth the example of Andrea Yates. Merely expressing personal dissatisfaction is not an answer. Nor is posting emotional rhetoric from other writers who extract hyperbole from their quiver.
- It is then asked, "...what possible value is living beyond the age of accountability? Of what use is life on Earth if all it means is just a possible chance to throw away salvation?"
Such persons -- we might use Madalyn O'Hair as an example -- may nevertheless continue to serve a purpose for the greater good; if they will never be saved themselves, their poor example may save others, as indeed O'Hair has done, unwittingly, through her converted son. (On these points we recommend Miller's series here, notably part 4.
Next up, Jacobsen briefly discusses the question, "does God do things because they are good, or are things good because God does them?"
He does not delve into the matter in depth, and neither shall we, but his objections again are not against the matters themselves as his own (and our) lack of knowledge. "For example, how can we know that God did not order the September 11 attack?" We can't; we can weigh evidence and make hypotheses, but what of it?
And next, original sin. My view on this matter differs significantly from Geisler's (see here) so I will not defend his arguments. However, I do not see any validity to Jacobsen's objection that any propensity we have to sin means we cannot be blamed for sinning. This is a shifting-blame approach that refuses personal responsibility.
The subject shifts now to the reliability of the Bible. Geisler pointed to external confirmations of the text, and Jacobsen replies:
I'm no expert on history or archaeology, but my instincts tell me this isn't a valid argument. It seems reasonable to me that real events beget legends. People who lived in the times, probably knew who was king at the time, what cities were where, etc. As an analogy, in a few hundred years, someone finding a video of the movie Titanic could conceivably conclude that it was a documentary piece. Lots of events in the movie could conceivably be confirmed via other records of the Titanic. So, using the same reasoning, someone could erroneously conclude that the events in the movie were all historic.
There's a certain irony here, since the movie Titanic was thoroughly researched and every effort was made to surround the truly fictional characters with what was known to be true history. But as for Jacobsen's "instincts" he may wish to share them with historians who routinely use such confirmations to decide whether or not a historian is reliable. He may also enlighten us as to what means he uses to decide whether to trust others -- if it is not their previous record, then what criteria does he use? Or does he trust no one?
Moreover, no one is even claiming that a modern movie is intended as a historical account, and Titanic, for all its virtues, does not fit within the genre of a narrative documentary.
Geisler discusses further issues which Jacobsen declines comment upon, such as history and alleged Bible contradictions, admirably acknowledging a lack of expertise and referring readers to the Secular Web. We in turn refer the reader to materials on this site; if Jacobsen thinks any of these are subject to the criticism's of Tobin's article he refers to, we'd like to know how.
There is then a diversion to the matter of carnivorous animals and the Fall. This is quite beyond my scope but I refer the reader to Miller's item here. Jacobsen closes with comments on vegetarianism and I think he would be pleased with my position offered here.
Objection 5: It's Offensive to Claim Jesus is the Only Way to God
Strobel shares the mike here with Ravi Zacharias, in a chapter that could only emerge as needed in a society where being "offensive" is looked upon as a problem. Offensive? If Christianity is true, if it really IS the "only way," and being offended does not answer any argument.
Jacobsen himself does not show any evidence of being the sort who'd go on and on about being "offended", but he does rely on feelings and perceptions at inopportune times. He acknowledges:
[Zacahrias] never said anything that jumped out at me as being "wrong". But yet, still left an "unsatisfied" feeling, as though he had said a lot of words, but answered little.
Jacobsen then proceeds to change the subject to the question, "how do you become saved?" and refers readers to an item on the Secular Web. May I suggest to Jacobsen in all earnestness that the problem here is not God's failure to communicate, but mankind's inability to keep their affairs in order -- something the track record of history suggests is a more likely option.
In any event, though "how to be saved" is not the subject of Zacharias' discussion, Jacobsen nevertheless uses out a "seems" card to try and divine Zacharias' would-be answer from a single one of his comments. Jacobsen would perhaps have gotten an easier answer by checking Zacharias' RZIM website for answers to Zacharias' view; as it is, I don't see much need to reply to Jacobsen's theoretical understanding of what Zacharias believes.
Zacharias offers an answer to "what about those who never hear" that is similar to our own: "God knows where we will be born and raised, and he puts us in a position where we might seek him. We are clearly told that wherever we live in whatever culture, in whatever nation--he is with reach of every one of us."
I have noted elsewhere similarly two principles: 1) The evidence for God is clear, so that men are without excuse (Ps. 19, Rom. 1-2). The heavens already declare God's existence and majesty. 2) He who seeks, finds (Matt. 7:7//Luke 11:9). My answer to the question, "What about those who never hear the Gospel?" is, "Those who want to know it, will be given the knowledge needed for salvation. Those who seek God will have God sufficiently revealed to them."
Jacobsen asks the question, "...if God is in reach of everybody regardless of culture, then how does Jesus fit in here? Not every culture teaches about Jesus, so what is his purpose?"
In reply I would draw from an analogy once used by Peter Kreeft. He spoke of the path to God being available through three means: natural theology, the philosophers, and the Gospel. The Gospel he compared to a clear and navigable stream. Natural theology and pagan religion he compared to a swamp. The way of the philosophers he compared to a rushing stream.
Theoretically one could reach God all three ways, but only one is clear and easy to grasp. But beyond this, Kreeft would also answer that even those who know not of a historical Jesus of Nazareth would nevertheless be able to grasp what it is Jesus represents -- the need for a bridge between man and God; the need for divine forgiveness of sin. The ancient Mayan farmer who recognizes his need and calls out to the heavens for resolution may be given no more than the message, "You should ask for forgiveness from me" -- and he as much as has the Gospel message, without knowing of a historical Jesus of Nazareth; his sins are forgiven by Jesus, even as he does not know of his life.
Let it be remembered that Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but by me" -- he decides who is let in, which is not the same as saying that you must know who he is to be let in.
Jacobsen also wants to know, "how exactly is God in reach of people in different cultures?" Zacharias and Kreeft would point to natural theology and the philosophers; Jacobsen asks about Greek mythology and presumes it to have been some kind of blockade to knowledge of God, but I would doubt that this is so, and barring time-traveling and mind-reading, it's hardly viable to claim that farmer Leonidas' mind was so cluttered with Zeus that he never had a fair chance to consider any alternative.
Jacobsen notes Zacharias' appeal to natural theology in Romans 1-2, but asks, "where is Christ in this?" Zacharias' answer lays beyond this and mirrors my own: A sincere seeker will have the needed information for salvation somehow provided to him. There is anecdotal evidence from the missionary field that may support this point; nevertheless, I will add that it is not lack of hearing the Gospel that causes condemnation; it is sin that causes condemnation, and it is not hard to arrive at a deduction that sin is offensive to whatever powers one may suppose to be at hand (indeed, the religious history of sacrifice and penance suggests a broad awareness of this) and that there needs to be some connection or bridge in order to achieve a reconciliation.
This makes it quite clear that God and salvation was in reach of all people -- indeed that they were aware of the need that the Gospel message provides a clear answer to.
In response to Zacharias' point that he would trust God to judge rightly, Jacobsen returns again to personal dissatisfaction as an answer, and says:
But of course I suspect that Zacharias would be hesitant to answer if I asked him just exactly what the "right" thing would be. I suspect he'd say that was up to God to decide, not us. But I don't think I'm willing to accept a non-answer here. What is right? Wouldn't, in the scenario I described, sending such people to hell be clearly wrong?
Jacobsen's example, however, was far from what Zahcarias hypothesized: that such people would SOMEHOW be given the information needed to make a decision. Does Jacobsen doubt this? Then we await his rundown of what was in the minds of every ancient person, showing that they did not have a fair chance to accept salvation.
Inevitably this is why the answer, "I'm not satisfied" goes nowhere, and why worries about the ancient Mayan with no Gospel knowledge are little more than a distraction from one's OWN personal decision about Christ. It is easy to "second guess" a non-falsifiable claim.
For a while thereafter Jacobsen discusses the idea that those who believe in evolution are supposed not to be saved. I don't think many Christians would claim that believing in evolution BY ITSELF is a guaranteed ticket to hell (I would say it is a ticket to cognitive dissonance); in any event, Jacobsen is answered by what I have said and what Zacharias has said, that any person seeking answers will be given what they need to be saved.
Jacobsen then asks, "What value is going to church? What value is being taught Christianity? Zacharias has to say either that being taught Christianity helps one to choose the right path, or it doesn't. Pick one. If it does help, then clearly those that aren't taught Christianity are NOT given the same opportunity to follow God as those that aren't taught Christianity. Or if it doesn't help at all, then what value is it to be taught Christianity?"
The answer is found in the analogy above with respect to the swamp, the rapids, and the navigable stream. The value in being taught Christianity is to be made into a serving disciple of Christ, to serve a purpose in God's Kingdom and His work here on earth. The ancient Mayan will be saved; but he will not serve as efficiently as one who knows the full gospel.
Jacobsen closes with an anecdote of a Lutheran minister who spoke of a God who "throws away souls". This is not at all Zacharias' view -- his view is of a God who does all He can to keep souls, and who provides light to all those who want it. Jacobsen's understanding of Zacharias' position, however, is clearly out of line, as it is not a matter of "all you have to do is recognize God as superior" -- he has vastly oversimplified Zacharias' material.
Objection 6: A Loving God Would Never Torture People in Hell
Strobel here shares the light with J. P. Moreland. On this point we would again refer the reader to the material by Miller here (especially part 2), which offers a more detailed examination of this matter, and now much later add our own take here. Jacobsen says he "found this chapter a maddening read, fraught with logic errors too numerous to completely detail." I sense a rather emotional reaction behind this, but let us proceed.
Like Miller, but in less detail, Moreland corrects the Dante-esque notion of hell as "fire and brimstone" and rightly notes that hell is actually permanent separation from God. Jacobsen offers no reply on this point and so apparently does not disagree. He does become outraged, however, at this point:
So how does a person get himself or herself sent to hell? For one, Moreland argues that it is actually an act of compassion on God's part to send people to hell! Moreland says that people in their lives make "thousands of little choices each day without even knowing about it. Each day we're preparing ourselves for either being with God and his people and valuing the things he values, or choosing not to engage with those things . . . If people do not fall passionately in love with him, then to force them to have to be around him forever--doing the kinds of things that people who love him would want to do--would be utterly uncomfortable."
Jacobsen claims he finds "many, many problems with this theology" but I have to admit to start that I did not find any place where Moreland said, "It is actually an act of compassion for God to send people to hell." I DO see where he noted that God is compassionate, but also just, moral, and pure; he speaks of hell as punishment, and as a sort of jail; he notes that those who reject God would not want to be around Him anyway; but I see nowhere where he uses the word "compassionate" to describe this action.
But given that understanding, here is what Jacobsen says:
- "...if God is being compassionate by sending people who don't want to be around Him to hell, why are the people in hell not exercising their free will to do the things that they do want to do?" Beyond what may or may not have been said about "compassion" here, people in hell ARE (and DID) exercise their free will, to reject God, which is why they are in hell to begin with. Jacobsen does not understand how a life deprived of God can be "the worst possible situation" and supposes, "Moreland makes it sound like hell would be a great place to go and 'do your thing.'" Hmm. Jacobsen as a whole is clearly not a depraved individual, and I think he has overestimated the options for leisure activity, so to speak, in hell; it is also marginal to trivialize what life separated from God would be like. But let us say one is free in hell to pursue all manner of depravity one did on earth. How long does Jacobsen think it would be before such persons realized the purposelessness and fruitlessness of their eternal lives? On earth such people would commit suicide in despair.
- Next: "...if hell is 'the worst possible situation' how can it also be 'merciful'?" I once again find myself wondering where Jacobsen finds this point made; I see no place where it is said to be "merciful" though one word is easy to miss. That said, I do find that hell is in accord with the principles of mercy as outlined here (where it will be seen that it is not used in the modern sense of refraining from dishing out pain and punishment).
It is also asked, "How could it possibly be 'merciful' for God to never consider the possibility of a person changing their mind over time?" Granting that definition of mercy, how does Jacobsen come to presume that those in hell WOULD ever change their minds? Jacobsen's points are once again based on second-guessing and mind-reading over the temporal realms.
- His third objection is more of the same: if people in hell have regrets, he says, "it seems to me that they probably would like to be with God."
It "seems" this way? This is merely mind-reading, which is peculiar given that Jacobsen claimed to see "logical" errors in what Moreland said. One should note that regret is mutually exclusive of repentance. A prison inmate may "regret" their crime -- in that they regret that they were caught.
- Then, "...what does this say about the value of evangelism? If people who are in hell are people that would rather be in hell than in heaven with God, then what is the point of evangelism?"
The point of evangelism is twofold: 1) To provide the way to those who WILL accept; 2) To validate judgment on those who do not. Beyond that, unless Jacobsen has a list of those who will or will not accept, his question, "Why try to talk people that don't want to be with God into wanting to be with God?," I want to know how he knows who such people are. He'd save a lot of time.
Jacobsen then looks at three sub-objections:
- How Can God Send Children to Hell -- Jacobsen presumes, probably rightly, that Moreland believes in the "Age of Accountability Doctrine" and refers readers to Chapter 4.
- Why Does Everyone Suffer the Same in Hell -- it is said, "Moreland contends that there are different levels of suffering in hell. But he also contends that all suffer mightily, so it seems to be a pointless discussion."
The former is true and also in line with Miller's detailed exposition linked above. The latter ("mightily") is another one of those quotes I can't seem to find, unless one takes it too literally into Moreland's summary "worst possible situation" descriptor.
- Why are People Punished Infinitely for Finite Crimes? --- my new view (see here) negates the need to defend this idea; thus I have removed my prior response to Jacobsen.
- Couldn't God Force Everyone to go to Heaven? -- here again Jacobsen resorts to the "mind reading" idea, that he is sure somehow that people in hell will actually want to really return to God. He has the impression, apparently, that "unhappiness" can have only one responding result. As noted above, regret (and unhappiness) are mutually exclusive of the reaction to regret and unhappiness.
- Why Doesn't God Just Snuff People Out? -- Moreland argues against an annihilationist perspective by noting that it is a method that treats people like a means to an end, and therefore denies their intrinsic value. Jacobsen's main reply to this is an emotional one, as he sarcastically replies: "So, instead God punishes for eternity beings of 'intrinsic value?'"
Yes -- and how is this an answer? It isn't. Jacobsen needs to show that eternal punishment in the form of separation from God shows less respect more intrinsic value of persons than annihilation does. Rather than do this, he brings the emotional question "how would you like it if...", thereby forcing the matter to subjective preference rather than objective fact.
- How Can Hell Exist Alongside Heaven? -- in response to Moreland's point that "people in heaven will realize that hell is protecting their 'intrinsic value,'" Jacobsen once again opts for speculative mind-reading over the centuries and posits a "what if" question suggesting people in heaven might not agree. This is again not a logical or factual reply but a speculative and emotional one.
- Why Didn't God Create Only Those He Knew Would Follow Him? -- like Miller, Moreland notes that those who do not follow God have roles in the lives of those who do follow Him (as the example we gave elsewhere of Madalyn Murray O'Hair). Jacobsen finds this reply "incredibly strange" and responds first to the idea that God "could have created maybe ten people He knew would follow Him." Jacobsen retorts, "Does Moreland not know that God seems to have failed to be able to predict what two people, Adam and Eve, would do?"
There's no "seems" about it, actually; Jacobsen merely assumes a "seems" where no data is offered at all. The reply here is that God knew exactly what would happen -- and knew that there was no possible world where free will could exist and all could be saved. God creates ten; do they never procreate, though? And if they are immortal, does not the length of their existence guarantee that one or more will fall, if not all?
Moreland uses the analogy of the Back to the Future movies which shows that even minor changes in events can have macro-effects. But Jacobsen once more resorts to "seems" reasoning and says, "Moreland seems to, as best as I can determine, be making a reference to chaos theory. He seems to be saying that God Himself is subject to chaos theory and cannot predict every reaction to every action."
No, he isn't. But while Jacobsen does admit that he is "not 100% certain this is what Moreland is trying to say" he then goes on to criticize Moreland for holding this position anyway.
What Moreland is saying is that God CAN predict every reaction, and in this light, knows exactly what needs to be done to achieve any given macro-effect -- which means He also knows that there will inevitably (in a free will setting) be some persons who will never accept Him; and thus also, he knows what it takes to get those saved who WILL follow Him.
Rather than actually answer this point, Jacobsen once again resorts to emotion: "So people who don't choose God can still be instrumental in helping people go to heaven--and their reward for this is eternal damnation? So God just uses people and then throws them away? Doesn't this smack of Sadism?"
No. It doesn't, and being emotional about it does not answer the argument or negate it in any way. Moreover, such persons are not instrumental because they want to be, but in spite of themselves, which is no call for reward and certainly no reason to suspend their own punishment. The punk who trips the little old lady on the bus, and just happens to make her trip into a terrorist bomb which her weight causes to shatter and malfunction, isn't up for a reward for stopping a bomb, now, is he? The persons in question are "used", yes -- because they have already plotted their OWN trip to throw THEMSELVES away. Sadism? More like sadomasochism.
Jacobsen asks then, "God Almighty couldn't come up with a better plan than this? He couldn't come up with a better way to influence people to choose Christ?"
Well, if Jacobsen has a suggestion for second-guessing the means, let him submit his plan for consideration. Merely being outraged and saying "there had to be a better way" is merely all talk, no action.
In close, other than criticizing Moreland for the "chaos theory" idea he does not hold, Jacobsen claims that Moreland's argument "amounts to an admission that whether someone eventually chooses to have faith in Christ is essentially unpredictable and dependant on who you meet, who you talk to and your life experiences."
If Jacobsen means, "unpredictable" from our point of view, that is quite correct and of no relevance. As in Chapter 1, objecting to our personal lack of knowledge is not an argument against the paradigm itself. Beyond that the argument actually is that one's decision is actually a syncretistic event, in which the people you meet, the experiences you have, and your own free will decision combine.
Is it possible that had you not turned that corner, you would not have been saved? Yes, but the point is meaningless, for the paradigm also holds that if you miss that corner, God has multiple opportunities to bring you into yet another situation where you will be offered the same decision.
- Why Doesn't God Give People a Second Chance? -- a second chance? How about a 187th, 1296th, 78,463rd chance? Every second of every day is a chance to change one's mind, and I agree with Moreland that "this question assumes God didn't do everything he could do before people died, and I reject that. God does everything he can to give people a chance and there will not be a single person who will be able to say to God, 'if you had just not allowed me to die prematurely, if you'd have given me another twelve months, I know I would have made that decision.'"
In answer Jacobsen claims a "stunningly blatant contradiction" to the answer on the objection above, but his "contradiction" is based on the false assumption that Moreland is teaching chaos theory. Hence there is nothing to answer.
As an aside Jacobsen asks the question, "What is the point of life on Earth? A billion years from now, are you going to be sitting in heaven talking about the time your aunt died? How could any experience as a mortal human on Earth be in any way useful to an immortal being in heaven?"
I find it interesting how omniscient Jacobsen "seems" to be, as he is so sure that experience on Earth will be useless in a billion years, and that he picks one trivial life-event as a subject.
I'll grant this: In a billion years it may well be useless; in a thousand, a hundred, not so. And that billion would have been built on that hundred, then thousand, then tens of thousand. Jacobsen also retorts that those who die as children seem to do just fine, but how does he manage to know that every person's role and purpose a million or a billion years from now requires the same Earthly experience?
- Isn't Reincarnation More Rational Than Hell? -- Jacobsen does "agree that if people came back as something other than human, there would be very little to recognize." But he says Moreland did not answer the question: "Wouldn't reincarnation (as a human again) at least be a better option than hell?"
I think Moreland did answer the question; it is simply that no one defines "reincarnation" in terms of a sure return to a human body. If this is the system Jacobsen wants, then of what use is it? The same person who would never accept God and would end up in hell would also never accept God returning as a human over and over again.
In conclusion as a whole: Jacobsen summarizes by asserting that Moreland's answers were "weak at best and preposterous at worst," but given the number of times he resorted to what Moreland "seemed" to argue, one has to wonder if that is a fair evaluation.
He closes non-specifically claiming that "Moreland denied trying to soft-pedal hell, but I really think he was," but does not explain why he thinks this. In the linked article Miller offers an exegesis of standard passages, and my own approaches from a social-science perspective. If this is "soft-pedaling" then we would like for Jacobsen to explain specifically how.
Objection 7: Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence
Of all the objections Strobel examined, this one is the second most illogical (after "it's offensive to claim there is one way to God"). Church history has nothing to do with the historic basis of Christian faith, the Resurrection; often those who bring up such things as the Spanish Inquisition are looking for grievances, not truth.
Strobel interviews John D. Woodbridge, and they discuss several such historical objections. Jacobsen himself acknowledges that he found this "one the most difficult [objections] to respond to," for he acknowledges that "some of the warmest, kindest people I know are Christians" and he is not anxious to broad-brush all Christians. He also freely acknowledges good done by Christians.
Woodbridge, he says, "like most apologists, doesn't want to blame Christianity for the evils done by misguided Christians. But on the other hand, he wants to give Christianity full credit for any good done by Christians."
I frankly do not see this latter point at all in the interview. I see nowhere where Woodbridge speaks of "full credit" though really, one way or the other, the only way to blame or credit is to show that the system (Christian belief) leads to the action.
I also do not see where Woodbridge is "all for blaming atheism for bad things done by atheists" and Jacobsen does not so much as quote a place where Woodbridge says this.
Woodbridge's answer as a whole is that true Christianity, the system, would not perpetrate such deeds as the Inquisition. Jacobsen at first claims there is a "problem" in that "who decides what 'true Christianity' is?" Only in a politically correct age would someone suggest that "I'm sure the people involved in the Crusades, Inquisition, etc., all believed they were representing 'true Christianity.' Who decides?"
Who decides? The historical data and the facts decide. The core documents decide.
Objection? One of course could join a beneficient club like the Kiwanis, then go out and murder 100 people and claim, "I represent true Kiwanis. Who are you to decide what a true Kiwani would do?" Now what would Jacobsen's answer be to that sort of person? (Of late, see more here; and on the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, see here.)
That said, Jacobsen allows that "true Christianity" at least "requires compassion and peaceful, loving behavior." In response he quotes Matthew 10:34, "do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," -- apparently unaware that Jesus describes behavior by non-believers against believers, that is, non-believers who wield the sword (a more figurative one here, actually) against believers.
Jacobsen wants to know who is to say what the right interpretation is -- well, that's where contextual study come in. Tell us that that Kiwani has the "right" to decide that the Kiwanis charter proscribes murder. It is this sort of contextual study that would allow us to reply to Jacobsen's hypothetical person claiming that the OT extermination of the Canaanites serves as a model for today: When that person starts doing miracles; when that person delivers a new covenant; when that person mediates for God giving orders -- then maybe we can think about a parallel.
I am disappointed somewhat that Jacobsen does not choose to specifically discuss any of the 5 "sins" of the church other than the witch trials, though this is likely because he would admit he has no expertise in these historical issues; likewise, neither do I in 2 out of 5 of them, and one of those 2 happens to be the witch trials.
Jacobsen does asks, what of laws in the OT teaching death to witches, and wonders how Woodbridge could oppose the trials in that light. I will put this two ways. First, this is where contextual study and the application of the text comes in: see here, which is where Jacobsen will find his answer of why the rules still apply but the punishments do not.
Second, IF indeed there had been real witches -- casting spells on people, destroying crops, or otherwise threatening others -- then the only difference between themselves and someone who sticks a knife in your gut is the means by which they kill you. (Later, he also seems to have added some objections about allegedly poor OT laws; eg: Consider Deuteronomy 22, which presumes that a woman who is raped but does not cry out "really" consents to sex and consequently should be stoned to death. Was there ever a time when that rule could have been reasonable? Of course not.
Why "of course not" is not explained save by assumption that emotional exclamation will do the job. However, in context, ancient law codes were case law; account would be taken in the trial stage for any variances in the situation.
In reply to Woodbridge's note that "many good things [are] done by Christians", he generally agrees, but comments "...I wonder if there wouldn't have been equally good art, music, etc., had the Christians been followers of some other religion."
I presume here Jacobsen means, not that they would not have been as talented at what they do, but whether they would have produced as much, or as ideologically great or useful a work (i.e., they may have produced religious works to inspire people, but if not Christians, may have produced pornography). If he means talent then that is a non-issue.
If he means the other, it may be granted that as a Buddhist, the person may have produced some equitably inspiring work, but for a different purpose. Nevertheless this is not a foundational argument for the faith and Woodbridge does not use it as such; he is merely replying to charges of evil done by the church.
Next up is a side question about the influence of the Holy Spirit:
I've always had a great deal of problems with this type of reasoning. Do we have free will or not? If we do, how can there be any restraining power of the Holy Spirit at all? The very word "restraining" means to contain, to interfere. If the Holy Spirit is allowed to "restrain" evil at all, they why can't the Holy Spirit restrain it all? Can the Holy Spirit restrain or prevent evil, yes or no?
The answer is "yes, but not in the way you think." Does someone who admonishes another i.e., to stop smoking, offer any "restraint"? Yes they do -- they do not take a fire hose to them, a higher degree of restraint, but they do attempt to restrain through "manipulation" (if we may say) of the target's conscience ("think of your family") or self-preservation instinct ("those things will kill you").
The latter form of restraint works within the paradigm of free will, and Jacobsen has merely forgotten the gray shades between the black and white of total dictatorial control and complete license.
Jacobsen next repeats some points on morality from chapter 4; we move to the next unique portion, within our purview, in close:
I also think it important to note that various cultures in history have had very different moral codes. Here is an example. Some Native American cultures believed homosexuality to be a blessing, a gift from God. If Christians, who generally believe that God finds homosexuality abhorrent are correct, is it logical that He would have forgotten to tell a lot of peoples and cultures throughout history?
To answer this question is probably not historically possible; one needs to ask, HOW did these cultures (I know of perhaps one, the Nez Perce) come to arrive at such a belief? If they did it by arbitrary "baptism" -- i.e., if they simply declared previous understandings of homosexuality wrong in the name of "tolerance" or for mere pleasure, then it is hardly a point to note that they arrived at the conclusion that it was a "blessing". This no more anoints homosexuality as moral than a thief declaring that he saw his career as a "blessing from God" validates his moral code.
Whether God "forgot" or not is not really an issue -- any behavior can be baptized thusly whether God said a word or not, and if Jacobsen doubts it, let him explain why making the rules clear apparently didn't stop the Israelites from having their way.
Objection 8: I Still Have Doubts, So I Can't be a Christian
On this intervew with Lynn Anderson, Jacobsen opts to be brief. He refers to material in Chapter 5 (our own answers there) and remarks:
I don't see any way to avoid concluding that belief and faith isn't a true/false issue, people's level of belief and faith encompasses the entire range from completely convinced there is a God to completely convinced there isn't.
My own take on this matter is that those who speak of being at various levels of being "convinced" are fooling themselves. To speak of being "47% convinced" is like speaking of being "47% pregnant". Your decision has either crossed the line or it hasn't. One may say, where X, Y and Z are required to decide on an issue, "Well, I have overcome reservations X and Y to this issue, but not Z. So I am only 66% convinced."
That is obfuscatory: You are 100% convinced on X and Y, and 0% on Z, and therefore, 100 x 100 x 0 = 0. There is no "66% convinced" but rather, "I have been satisfied on 66% of answers needed to reach point A." Therefore Jacobsen's parable of people missing the pearly gates by Maxwell Smart's "that much" is completely out of line.
Jacobsen offers this parable:
Lets suppose there are two men, who seem like very similar people. They are "Easter Christians," generally showing up at church only for Easter and Christmas. But one of these two only does it because he thinks he is supposed to, and usually nods-off during the sermon. The other one feels he should go more often, and listens to the preacher and tries to get meaning out of the sermons. He occasionally thinks to himself that he should go more often, and knows that he hasn't really been giving fair time to God.
Jacobsen goes on to hypothesize that the first man goes to hell, but there is insufficient data in the Christian paradigm for this -- we have no idea what either of these men thought concerning the central soteriological question, What do you believe about Jesus? If both did believe, then we DO have a place where some sort "spiritual quotient" comes in -- in terms of rewards in heaven.
But there is no "level" where the core belief is concerned. You either believe or do not; you are either convinced or you are not, and if you are not, you are either going to be someday or won't be. Jacobsen's parable of Mr. Sleepy and his friend reversing roles misses the whole point. Faith (loyalty to God) is not open to double-mindedness. He who is not for Him, is against Him.
Reply to Paul Copan's That's Just Your Interpretation.
I do not own this book, so my comments will be limited (IOW, I will not be able to check back on what Copan says vs. what Jacobsen reports), and I will skip material that is beyond my scope (and Jacobsen does the same).
Chapter 1: It's All Relative -- as a whole, Jacobsen agrees with Copan in this chapter, but has this: "...a big question that Copan seems to never address is, how do you determine what is reality? How do I determine for certain whether I am typing on my computer or not?"
The likely reason Copan never answered this question is because it can't be answered. You DON'T know whether you are living in the Matrix or the Truman Show; but when it gets down to it, so what? Do you live your life with this in mind? Those that do, tend to be prescribed medication, which is as much as admission that we don't consider this a real possibility.
Copan apparently (from what Jacobsen says) is 100% convinced that we are not enduring such a setup. Jacobsen says he thinks such truth and reality "can be determined within a reasonable doubt." How that might translate into a percentage is something I'd like to know.
Chapter 2: That's Just Your Interpretation -- Jacobsen wonders what it is that Copan is talking about "interpreting". Not having the book I cannot say, but the Bible is a likely target, and aware of this, Jacobsen agrees that seeking out reasons for interpretations is a valid approach and even recommends consulting experts in issues of what a law means. My only comment then is that this seems rather at odds with Jacobsen's "who's to say what true Christianity is" approach in part 7 above.
Chapter 3: That's Just Your Reality -- Jacobsen says, "...I suspect Copan is reading too much into people that claim things like, 'you create your own reality.' Perhaps, if I'm wrong, and people who make such claims do mean more than that, then perhaps I agree with Copan."
I'll introduce Jacobsen to persons of that order at his convenience. Wayne Dyer is the best example from a while back; these days it's Eckhart Tolle.
Chapter 4: Reality is Shaped by Forced Beyond Our Control -- Jacobsen says, "...I believe that it is simply a fact that some things are a mix of subjective and objective and that they are not always separable." One example he gives:
Are Ford's better than Chevy's? Most of us would say that is a subjective call. For one person, a Ford may be better, but for another, a Chevy may be better. But a Ford fan might get out statistics on reliability and horsepower and maintenance and try to make a claim that Ford's are objectively better than Chevy's. But, it is not likely that in every objective category, Ford's are always better or Chevy's. Perhaps one brand has better reliability statistics, while the other has better safety statistics. So, which is better? It is subjective isn't it?
It isn't, actually, because what's happening here is a matter of variables that theoretically COULD be determined, but that few or none would have the time, ability, or care to discern -- hence, it does become subjective. The simple fact is that not every Ford or Chevy is the same -- too many factors (assembly line worker alertness; parts quality; user behavior) etc. come into play when a car is made and sold. The Mustang that breaks down in 2 years because someone runs it over old lake beds may survive 10 years with the little old lady who uses it just to go to church.
Since no one is going to be able to install all these variables into an equation, all we are left with is indeed subjective judgment -- not because objective judgment is not actually possible, but because it is practically out of our reach.
Chapter 5: Everything is One with the Divine; Chapter 6: Why Not Believe in Reincarnation -- Here Jacobsen passes in that he more or less agrees with Copan. Copan's Chapter 7 is outside our scope.
Chapter 8: If God Knows What We're Going to do, We Don't Have Free Will -- my take on this is here and I would answer Jacobsen's example of Hitler by way of what was discussed in Chapter 1 above. On the point of prayer, see here; it is not the "gumball machine" Jacobsen's comments intimate. It is said:
Copan goes on to argue that God knows not only everything that happens in this world and universe, but also everything that would happen in all possible worlds and universes. And therefore God chose to manifest the world in which the maximum number of people are saved and the minimum number are lost. My first question is, where the heck in the Bible does it say this? This seems to be completely "made up stuff"--made up to try to gloss over glaring deficiencies of ordinary Christian theology.
My first reply is that Jacobsen simply does not want to accept this as a plausible hypothesis and so merely replies with outrage. The Bible does not need to say such things (as this, or later, "transworld depravity") -- and by such intemperate means would Jacobsen accept my dismissal of the philosophical works and hypotheses of those he agrees with? Is Jacobsen going to play the role of a "fundamentalist atheist" and restrict ALL truth to the pages of the Bible?
If it is a deficiency, show why -- perhaps Jacobsen unwittingly realizes that this is something he cannot defend against save by the graces of a time machine or being omniscient himself. Merely saying, "Mr. Copan, are you really saying that God is incapable of making a better world than this one?" is doing nothing to prove that such a better world could exist. It is merely emotion and outrage.
"A world ten times bigger, with ten times the population, should in theory generate more people saved, right?" And ten times as many lost, and ten times as many Paul Jacobsens thinking it unfair. Let's keep in mind that percentages, not just raw numbers, ought to come into such an equation (as I show in the first linked article).
And is it a matter of omnipotence? No -- all the power you could use cannot change a free will decision. I honestly do believe that this is the best possible world -- the tactic of saying, "Yeah, well what about THIS bad thing then?" was one Voltaire used, and it's no more logical or effective now than it was in his time. It involves, as always, second-guessing omniscience. (For more on this again, see here.)
Jacobsen goes on to write of two "goals of God" he perceives found in Christian apologetics, and then discusses extensively how he finds these two goals mutually incompatible. I will not address these, since I have seen neither explicitly stated by any apologist and in fact see both goals as described by Jacobsen to be either incomplete or not agreeable, and in any event he relies much on what "seems" to be in the texts he uses, where I find no such thing "seemed" at all.
Chapter 9: If God Predestines Some to be Saved, What Choice Do I Really Have? -- I also refer the reader to the same links above for this one, and note otherwise only this comment:
But Copan's admission that good arguments in favor of Calvinism can be made begs the question, why is the Bible so difficult to understand what it means that not even God's own followers can come to a consensus on what it means?
It needs repeating -- the Bible is only "difficult" to understand if one does not study-- so likewise would any document be "difficult" to understand; if you think not, pick up Tacitus' Annals and tell me EVERYTHING that goes on in the background.
Chapter 10: The Coexistence of God and Evil Is a Logical Contradiction -- Jacobsen disparagingly speaks of Copan giving "the usual Christian argument that God wanted to give people free will, and an unfortunate result is that some people will use their free will to do evil."
Somehow Jacobsen thinks that there is some issue of whether God can indeed defeat all evil in the long term. Other matters of moral issues go beyond our scope, but I will add that if Copan says a world "with free will but no evil might be logically possible, but still not feasible for God to do," I disagree with it.
Chapter 11: Why Would a Good God Send People to Hell? -- much of this is the same as what is covered Chapter 1. We would remind Jacobsen that calling something "asinine" and leaving it at that is not an argument but a mere emotional reaction.
I would not see a need for Copan's comparison to marriage for those who claim "that God is unfair for making us make a choice between heaven and hell while we don't fully understand the ramifications of such choice." A sufficient understanding of the ramifications is far from beyond the reach of any person with the ability to think; they either understand, or do what they can to avoid learning so that they can understand, which in itself constitutes a choice against. One does not need to "see heaven or hell"; one only needs to know who God is and what He stands for in general.
Copan deals with the question, "why didn't God just make everybody the way they will be in heaven--without sin." None of the 3 answers Copan offers match my own, which is that the combination of the environment of heaven (which would include the rez body) AND our experiences as free agents one earth will combine to make sin a non-practice in heaven.
The first part does match Copan's third option. I have little else to say as Jacobsen then returns to his "two goals of God" which he derived by "seems" from the literature and spots them against Copan's 3 answers, none of which match mine completely.
Chapter 12: Religion is Nothing More Than the Human Wish for a Father Figure -- this sort of objection begs an enormous question. Jacobsen does not defend this view but does ask some questions:
They claim that God (perhaps) designed us with a need for God. Therefore, the skeptic can be--in a way--correct, people do need the security of God. The general problem I have with this type of theology is that if God did design us with such a need, then His being so elusive seems cruel. It's like God is holding a bag of candy just out of reach of a child's hands. If He really wants us to want a relationship with Him, then His elusiveness doesn't seem to make sense.
My reply for on this site is that God is NOT elusive in the least for those willing to do a minimal amount of discipleship.
Also, if God made us with a desire to have a relationship with Him, why are there so many religions? Copan briefly mentions this, but says he answers the question in his other book, True for You, but Not for Me. I have not yet read his other book, but I must confess skepticism that he could have answered this question adequately.
Well, that's fair. I'm just as sure he has, so where does that leave us? The answer in two words: human creativity. In a supplement: trying to justify your own way of doing things. Take a look at the social formation of new religions and see if it does not pan out that way.
Chapter 13: How Can God be Three and One?; Chapter 14: Isn't the Idea of God Becoming a Man Incoherent? -- Jacobsen defers comment.
Chapter 15: If Jesus Is God, How Could He Really Be Tempted? -- this one made Jacobsen laugh for some reason. I happen to disagree with what many think was the reason for Jesus' temptation. See here.
Chapter 16, 17: The Genesis Creation Account Contradicts Science -- these are beyond my own scope, so I'll skip them.
Chapter 18: How Could a Loving God Command Genocide -- this is a lot like what we covered in Chapter 4, so here again, limited comments and answers to questions posed that are not repeats of what is found there, which amounts to one point:
...what did God do to help the Canaanites to become a better society? The Bible seems to show God actively working to help the Israelites, but seems to show God just ignoring everybody else until He is sufficiently pissed off at them that He decides to wipe them out. If this isn't an accurate portrayal, why didn't God tell us all the great things He did to try to help the Canaanites?
This is another one of those "seems" that isn't what it "seems". Very little of the "active help" God gave the Israelites involved what could be called moral or cultural improvements; the giving of the Law might have been called such, except that the Law (as other Skeptics often point out) is not a whole lot different in principle than law codes known and available to the Canaanites.
The fact is that when it came to free will decisions, Israel got no more help than Canaan, and at any rate, didn't do a whole lot better in the end.
Chapter 19: Doesn't the Bible Condone Slavery? -- Copan's chapter is apparently somewhat like Miller's article here. Jacobsen offers no comment on the main portion, saying his "only question...is, where was God when the practice of slavery was growing? Why didn't He do something to stop it then?"
The answer is the same as the sort we give in Chapter 1 for any sort of evil men do.
Chapter 20: The Gospels Contradict Each Other -- After what I must regard as a pedantic objection against Copan for presuming to speak for all Christians (it is more likely Copan is speaking in general terms when he says "Christians believe..."), Jacobsen offers these comments we would reply to:
...if the Gospels are simply works written by men, and therefore might not be completely accurate, why is it so terrible of a skeptic to doubt that some of the events, like being raised from the dead, aren't true? The Bible depicts that people who were even there, like Doubting Thomas, having doubts that Jesus really raised from the dead. But yet there is something "wrong" with me for thinking, "hey, these works were written by men, maybe they aren't completely accurate?"
If Jacobsen wants to use the "Doubting Thomas" example, he might want to note that 1) Jesus delivered a mild rebuke to Thomas; 2) Thomas' doubts were completely unwarranted, as he had not only been a witness to the ministry of Jesus and his miracles, but also was among a group of 10 other men whom he had gotten to know intimately and whose testimony he should have trusted.
As for "what is so terrible..." On the surface this reaction is emotional and non-specific; I will put it this way: The "terrible" consequences come only to those who reject Jesus as Savior. There are no "terrible" consequences for doubting, i.e., the raising of Jairus' daughter, but it you reject the latter it would be rather dissonant to accept the former.
As a guest writer on this site has said, Skeptics who want to refute Christianity need to start with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not with accessory miracles and events.
Beyond this Jacobsen offers a mild endorsement of the theories of Earl Doherty; not for the Christ-myth, but for the Gospels composed as allegories. Jacobsen thinks this fits in with what Copan has to say; not having read Copan, I must decline direct comment, but will note these points generally:
- The idea of the Gospels AS allegory is based on little more than Doherty's presuppositions. By genre they nestle in the realm of ancient biography (see here).
- Jacobsen writes, "...Copan notes that each of the Gospel writers had different audiences. And therefore, they may have taken some liberties with the exact wordings of Jesus in order to best address Jesus' ideas to their audience. Well, were they writing a history or a story? People writing histories shouldn't take liberties should they?"
They shouldn't? It depends on what "liberties" we are talking about. A liberty taken to make a historical account more intelligible is hardly to be objected to. For example, if Jesus used colloquial expressions that were familiar to Jews in Palestine, is it an objectionable liberty to paraphrase his words into something a Gentile in Spain would grasp?
Jacobsen should perhaps consider that this was the era before ample writing supplies; before extensive footnotes could be appended to a work explaining things, and when information was mostly transmitted orally and any extraneous explanations had to be added to burdened memories. His objection that "we can't take liberties with history" (of any sort) is anachronistic and comes of one who lives in a society with leisure and resources to spare.
- It is also said, "The Gospels are told without a perspective. There is no indication of what witnesses saw what. Nor who was interviewed in the process of piecing together the events that were being reported."
This is another misplaced expectation. Ancient historians seldom or never give such indications; some did whenever there was a conflict in sources, but as a whole, one will never find in Josephus, Tacitus, etc. comments like, "I interviewed X to find out Y" or "Vespasian was near Titus and heard him say..." (They of course had little room to spare to do so, as noted above.)
Thus this "lack of perspective" is not a reason to deny the Gospels the genre of historical reportage.
- It is also said, "...some of the events, such as what Jesus prayed when he was alone, should have had no witnesses at all."
On that particular see here.
- In close, Jacobsen replies to some who have pointed out to him that he has imposed anachronistic standards on the Gospels, "So, the people of the time didn't have the same formal standards to history as we do today--but, I still have to believe the Gospels are in fact historically accurate in the major points such as Jesus being raised from the dead or I'm some bad guy deserving to go to hell?"
I think it telling that rather than answer the matter, Jacobsen resorts again to this emotional response. That is not an answer to the point that he must come to the Gospels (and all ancient documents) on their terms rather than modern ones. Nor is mere emotional outrage an answer to the point that one must believe on Jesus Christ to be saved.
Chapter 21: Old Testament "Prophecies" are Taken out of Context in the New Testament -- Copan's chapter here is apparently something like what Glenn Miller offers here.
Once again, Jacobsen declines detailed comment and resorts to emotion: "Oh, that explains it. But it is still factual and if I don't believe it I'm a bad guy?"
He alludes to Doherty's idea that the Gospels are midrash; as noted above, this is wrong, and for more, see related comments here (the same theory is held by Spong, relying on Goulder).
The Case for the Real Jesus Critique
This now also includes our responses to Jacobsen's replies. As an aside to readers, Jacobsen's response is laced with profanity and is sometimes pornographic. Such things matter little to me; I've heard it done better and with more art by prison inmates, but for the sake of sensitive readers, I include this warning and will make use of the an asterisk [*] as needed.
Challenge 1: "Scholars are Uncovering a Radically Different Jesus in Ancient Documents Just as Credible as the Four Gospels"
Jacobsen: The first thing about this passage that strikes me as odd is that Evans claims that one really needs to understand Hebrew and Aramaic in order to fully understand Jesus. That seems to leave out the vast majority of the world's population, no?
The "vast majority of the world's population" does not need to "fully understand Jesus" in the sense that Evans is talking about - which is, to the extent of dealing in matters like historical criticism and alternate fraudulent Gospels like Judas and Thomas. There are popular-level works like Jenkins' Hidden Gospels which distill the data for the average person.
Nothing is inaccessible in terms of issues like Jesus' message of salvation. Evans' point has to do with scholars who produce these distilled works (like Burton Mack) without knowing enough. Mack and his sort are not producing arguments about "salvation" and so their coming up with unusual portraits is beside the point of the accessibility of salvation.
How this is "odd" even so is a matter of subjectivity and does not answer any argument, but it appears that it is Jacobsen's radical unfamiliarity with the subject matter at hand that is causing his confusion.
Re: Strobel and his experts continually downplay the significance of those first 30 years, frequently suggesting that it is a tiny amount of time on a historical scale. Maybe so, but it's a huge amount of time when we are talking about what may amount to myth making - or, if short of that, for people to remember speeches and events. This is oversimplified. The issue is not merely the making of myths, but how well they "stick" as history in the face of adverse conditions, as well as how well truth can be preserved with such functions as ancient orality.
Re: The point I'm leading to is, there are NO known contemporary references to Jesus--meaning there are no known references to him that date during his lifetime.
This is not a required criteria for having reliable information about a person. Most of what Tacitus writes was written well after the people he relates the history of were dead. Yet I don't see historians rejecting his work to any extent because of this.
...the fact is that there is no contemporary reference to him, which means that, whoever this Jesus was, very little can be said about him. Which parts of the Gospels are real and which are fictional can, therefore, only be guessed at.
One can only guess where Jacobsen digs up this criteria for what can be "guessed at" - he admits it is beyond my credentials to be able to assert with authority though he appeals to Gottschalk's Understanding History on the importance of using eyewitness testimony. Why is hard to say, since what he quotes doesn't say anything about references having to be contemporary for us to have any hope of saying anything about someone. He seems to think there is some issue in Luke not being an eyewitness, but Gottschalk says clearly that a historian can use eyewitness testimony, which is what Luke does say he does. So that means that Luke is "based on eyewitness testimony" as Jacobsen admits.
The arguments of Carrier about Luke's methods are repeated. See here.
It is hard to say why Jacobsen refers to Strobel and Evans not going on about Daniel when their subject is the New Testament Gospels and Jesus, as he admits, though he tries to find an application: the idea of the NT being a divine new revelation from God isn't too likely if the first alleged revelation is notably fraudulent! Our answer at this.
Jacobsen: And, on a related note, Evans could have also mentioned that writing style and themes can reveal fraudulent authorship claims, which is why we know that some of Paul's epistles were likely not authored by him at all.
Hardly -- see for example, on the Pastorals, or use our index to check the other books.
On "bias" in the NT see Miller's item here.
Jacobsen objects to Evans just "asserting" that there were no alternate Christianities early on. He can do so precisely because there is no evidence; it is Jacobsen's job to provide evidence for the alternates, not Evans' job to do his arguing for him, and claiming "we do not know what happened" or pleading that there is not enough evidence or just saying of Gnostics, "their views had to come from somewhere" is not an argument but an admission that Jacobsen does not have an argument. It is up to Jacobsen's side to explain how a Gnostic Jesus could have arisen from history in Jewish first-century Palestine, and why anyone should take something like Judas and Thomas as a valid witness.
Standard arguments are used about 1 Tim. 2:11-14 and 1 Cor. 14:34-35 - answered by Miller here.
I myself do not reject documents like The Gospel of Peter on the grounds of the absurdity of what they report - I reject them on the grounds that they are late and have no support as genuine testimonies of what happened. That said, Evans' point is probably more sophisticated than Jacobsen realizes; it is not just that what is reported is ridiculous, but gratuitous. "NBA angels" serve no purpose in their context.
Barker's argument about the apparent progression of the fantastical nature of the empty tomb story from the earliest Gospels on is repeated. See response here.
On Gospel dates, see here. Jacobsen is also not informed concerning the pool of "possible witnesses" which would include Jews from all over the Diaspora who came to visit Jerusalem at the same time the events recorded in the Gospels occurred - not just those killed in Jerusalem in 70. He also forgets that there were plenty of things Jesus did outside of Jerusalem.
There is no "bias" inherent in Evans idea that time was spent discussing beliefs. Indeed, far from being a "like us" assumption, it is a case where the ancients were more inclined to something than we are. Socially, it would not only be natural, but expected in a collectivist setting, that the Christian social ingroup would discuss their beliefs within a community setting and "network" with one another. On this also see Miller's item here.
To say that Evans only "alleges" the existence of Christian community reflects a misunderstanding of the collectivist setting of early Christianity. See the above link also on oral tradition and a corrective to Jacobsen's allegations about human memory's role.
I say: "Nothing is inaccessible in terms of issues like Jesus' message of salvation."
Jacobsen says: Well, obviously not if, as according to Evans, scholars come to "unusual portraits" of Jesus by their not knowing Aramaic and Hebrew.
This is not an answer, nor is it an analysis of soteriological texts; and the "unusual portraits" Evans refers to are derived from such things as using the Gospel of Thomas or manufacturing documents like Q. It is doubtful that Jacobsen can defend (or deny) its portrait of Jesus as authentic, or any other text's portrait of Jesus, save perhaps with such vague answers as, "There were a lot of different views back then and the one with the most guns won."
I say: "The issue is not merely the making of myths, but how well they 'stick' as history in the face of adverse conditions, as well as how well truth can be preserved with such functions as ancient orality. At any rate, apparently Jacobsen has refused to educate himself on these matters in the years since he has begun to be a critic of Strobel."
Jacobsen says: Apparently, Holding has refused to pull his head out of his ***. Yes, I've read his and Miller's stuff on oral societies. Its bull****. Carrier already refuted this:
No, actually, he hasn't. Miller and I refute Carrier's arguments, which are:
Recent studies of oral transmission have confirmed that prose stories become distorted--in fact, they are routinely altered to suit the needs and interests of each particular audience or circumstance.
That doesn't fit the model which Miller and I explain, one in which audiences even correct deviations. Also, we're not talking about "prose stories" here but systematic teachings such as those offered by Jesus, Gamaliel, and Socrates, and those that pass them on.
Finally, Carrier makes no distinction between suiting needs for practical purposes that are acceptable and do not distort truth (such as explaining or changing archaic terms) and alteration that amounts to distortion.
Jacobsen says, I can concede that audience participation has the potential to correct errors. It can also increase them, however. Somebody thinks this, somebody thinks that, and you wind up with A+B+C etc. At any rate, where is your evidence any of this audience correction took place? You ain't got none.
No, it can NOT "increase them." Anthropologists and social scientists research and study different cultures, such as those that use oral transmission, past and present. This is where we get our evidence. We have scholars who have studied oral transmission in the context of first century Judaism and other oral societies. It is their conclusion that in the specific context at hand, that of Jesus and his teaching, we have every assurance that there was correctional feedback which made the transmission reliable -- to say nothing of the format of systematic teachings as a factor.
This is especially true when an oral tradition becomes important to some political, social, or religious agenda (for example, see the works of Rosalind Thomas or Greg Sarris). In fact, this is exactly why we turned to a reliance on writing and developed a distrust of oral transmission. Everyone knows that "this guy told this other guy who told this other guy who told me" is never a trustworthy source.
Unfortunately, as usual, Carrier does not quote anything from his sources to prove these alleged points. As an aside, while Thomas is a professor of Classics, Sarris is a professor of English and specializes in modern Native American literature, so what he would have to say about the subject of oral transmission in a first century Palestinian setting is unknown. In any event, name-dropping is not an argument, and Carrier's claims are contradicted, as I have recorded in my own article .
I will add now (5/09) having just published my book on NT reliability, with a section on oral transmission, that nothing Thomas says contradicts my points. Jacobsen has misunderstood or misused her work.
The ancients knew this too. That is why the best historians of the day, such as Thucydides and Polybius, insisted on relying only on direct eyewitness testimony, distrusting oral traditions altogether.
This is apples and oranges. What Carrier refers to (though he does not know the difference, or else ignores it) is not systematic oral tradition of the sort that is repeated in a social circle, but what we call "hearsay" (which does not automatically make it untrue or unreliable).
Jacobsen also recommends a book by Elizabth Loftus that Miller has already shown has no bearing on New Testament studies.
For one, it makes the same mistake Holding does, handing out possibilities of ways the stories might have been reinforced and corrected, without actually providing any evidence that these things actually did happen.
Miller provided references, and I have as well. As it is, Jacobsen only addresses ONE paragraph of Miller's enormous article. Miller says:
Retention: the time between the perceiving of an event and the time of retrieval of the memory of that event… Many of the events in Christ's life, in training the disciples, however, are essentially cases of 'immediate retrieval'. The disciples discuss the parables, or he teaches them to the disciples again in private.
And Jacobsen replies:
This is so disingenuous as to be laughable. The retention time in question is the time between the event and the time it is recorded, not between two events within the narrative! Now, sure, I know the implication is that based on the assumption that there was this action of immediate retrieval and subsequent repetitions. In other words, there is the assumption that the events happened the way the Bible says they happened, and then using that assumption to support the alleged immediate retrieval and repetition. But all of these things, including the alleged immediate retrieval and repetition are in question! You can't assume they happened and then use them as evidence they did happen!
What Jacobsen fails to grasp is that in an oral society, structured teachings were not only repeated immediately, as Miller indicates, but time and time again -- until it reaches written form (if it ever does).
Jacobsen says first: "The point I'm leading to is, there are NO known contemporary references to Jesus--meaning there are no known references to him that date during his lifetime."
I say: "The point being what? This is not a required criteria for having reliable information about a person. Most of what Tacitus writes was written well after the people he relates the history of were dead. Yet I don't see historians throwing out his work to any extent because of this."
Jacobsen says: Wrong again, dumbf***. For one, Tacitus lists his sources, and quotes them. The Gospels do not. Oh really? Perhaps Jacobsen has a special edition of Tacitus, then. Let's take a sample book of the Annals here, and some sample paragraphs recording events from between 32-37 AD:
Cneius Domitius and Camillus Scribonianus had entered on the consulship when the emperor, after crossing the channel which divides Capreae from Surrentum, sailed along Campania, in doubt whether he should enter Rome, or, possibly, simulating the intention of going thither, because he had resolved otherwise. He often landed at points in the neighborhood, visited the gardens by the Tiber, but went back again to the cliffs and to the solitude of the sea shores, in shame at the vices and profligacies into which he had plunged so unrestrainedly that in the fashion of a despot he debauched the children of free-born citizens. It was not merely beauty and a handsome person which he felt as an incentive to his lust, but the modesty of childhood in some, and noble ancestry in others. Hitherto unknown terms were then for the first time invented, derived from the abominations of the place and the endless phases of sensuality. Slaves too were set over the work of seeking out and procuring, with rewards for the willing, and threats to the reluctant, and if there was resistance from a relative or a parent, they used violence and force, and actually indulged their own passions as if dealing with captives.
At Rome meanwhile, in the beginning of the year, as if Livia's crimes had just been discovered and not also long ago punished, terrible decrees were proposed against her very statues and memory, and the property of Sejanus was to be taken from the exchequer and transferred to the imperial treasury; as if there was any difference. The motion was being urged with extreme persistency, in almost the same or with but slightly changed language, by such men as Scipio, Silanus, and Cassius, when suddenly Togonius Gallus intruding his own obscurity among illustrious names, was heard with ridicule. He begged the emperor to select a number of senators, twenty out of whom should be chosen by lot to wear swords and to defend his person, whenever he entered the Senate House. The man had actually believed a letter from him in which he asked the protection of one of the consuls, so that he might go in safety from Capreae to Rome. Tiberius however, who usually combined jesting and seriousness, thanked the senators for their goodwill, but asked who could be rejected, who could be chosen? "Were they always to be the same, or was there to be a succession? Were they to be men who had held office or youths, private citizens or officials? Then, again, what a scene would be presented by persons grasping their swords on the threshold of the Senate House? His life was not of so much worth if it had to be defended by arms." This was his answer to Togonius, guarded in its expression, and he urged nothing beyond the rejection of the motion.
These quotes only validate my points. Does anyone see a list of sources for these events by Tacitus? How about a quote of a named source (since presumably, this doesn't mean free-floating quotes of a person, which we do have in the Gospels)?
Actually, you have some point here. It is indeed true that Tacitus doesn't list all his sources. He lists them where he feels the subject at hand warrants it. And, as it so happens, Tacitus is considered more reliable on some subjects as opposed to others. Indeed partially due to how well documented and researched various claims are.
In that case, Jacobsen has conceded our point. However, he is wrong: Tacitus is not considered more reliable because he has documented things, but because when he is checked, he is found more often right than wrong. Now it is Jacobsen's turn to show that the Gospels are wrong.
Secondly, anything that any historian reports, if they are the only source, it is always considered of lesser attestation than if there are multiple good reports.
This is irrelevant. We still don't have that for the majority of what historians like Tacitus report, and I still don't see secular historians disregarding their work wholesale because of that. Multiple attestation is better, of course, and would trump a singular source that says something contrary, but I still don't see anyone saying like Jacobsen does that we need contemporary references or else it gets rejected.
The problem is you don't get to say, "Hey, the Gospels mention Herod and he really existed, therefore Jesus really was resurrected." If the Gospel of Peter mentioned Herod, would that mean its all true? Again, each fact must be evaluated on its own.
That's what I said as well. So again Jacobsen concedes my point.
And we might choose to accept something Tacitus says as being "probably true" even without any additional reference. But nobody claims Tacitus is inerrant.
The point being what? We do have people claiming Tacitus tells specific truths without error, and there's still no one saying that it needs to be contemporary to him to be accepted.
Once again for the slow-witted, each fact is evaluated on its own, based on a number of factors including independent corroboration, and initial probability. For each fact Tacitus reports, some we have high confidence of accuracy, others less so. I'm perfectly willing to accept that some events documented in the Gospels may well have happened. Herod being king, for example.
How this is an answer to the point above about contemporary testimony is hard to see. This hasn't been answered.
In the case of Tacitus, if I accept something he says but he was in error, or if I doubt something he says which is actually correct, the impact on me is negligible. And I've committed no crime even if I disagree with most scholars. But, with Christianity, I'm supposed to be a perfect judge of testimony (eyewitness and otherwise) and if I don't come to the same conclusion as a Christian, I've committed a crime. It's nonsense.
"I only stepped out into traffic once, and I got killed. That's nonsense." I think it is clear that Jacobsen is not an earnest student of these matters, and thus his objectiom here rings hollow.
Jacobsen says: At any rate, he goes on to note that I used Gottschalk as a reference, and then says, "Why is hard to say, since what he quotes doesn't say a thing about references having to be contemporary for us to have any hope of saying anything about someone." Oh, Gottshalk doesn't, eh? Bull****. Gottshalk specifically said that the historian relies only upon first-hand accounts (ie. CONTEMPORARY, you dumbf***) whenever possible.
Oh? "Whenever possible"? That sure does equal, "has to be contemporary to be accepted." It isn't.
And I quoted further from Gottschalk, where if you can't have it, you only use secondary sources that you can reliably trace to first hand sources. Maybe one of these days, Holding will actually understand what is being argued, but he will have to learn to read all of what exerts say and not just the parts he likes.
I'm still waiting for something that says testimomy MUST be contemporary to be reliable, which is what Jacobsen has been saying all this time. That we prefer it is not the point.
I say: "Gottschalk says clearly that a historian can use eyewitness testimony, which is what Luke does say he does."
Jacobsen says: Except, of course, I covered that already in my article--Holding is too chickensh** to actually address the actual argument. Luke says it was "handed down".
No, he doesn't say JUST that; he says it was "handed down" FROM eyewitnesses. That tells you that it was just ONE hand. Jacobsen says Carrier has more info -- so do I, and it refutes Carrier, and if that's as specific as Jacobsen gets, that's as specific as I need to get too.
Actually, no, it doesn't tell you that at all. It only tells you that he believes the endpoint of the chain *of undetermined length* is an eyewitness.
Of course. And Luke was also a bug eyed alien from the planet Zorg. If you can just suggest offhand "he's lying" then any argument you want is possible -- it's also much easier than actually proving someone wrong. It's easier indeed to just raise the bar arbitrarily high, as Jacobsen does:
Further, even if he did mean to say only one step removed, he still gives us no detail, who the eyewitness was for what event, etc. Who he talked to, how he separated what accounts to accept and what accounts to not accept.
He isn't required to. Jacobsen merely invents criteria to suit his own preferences. A great deal of history is accepted as reliable without all the extra rules. Jacobsen just raises the bar as he sees fit.
And, as Carrier notes, he clearly had to know of differing accounts given that his account contradicts the other Synoptics. Go back and read Carrier on these issues, and don't just read the parts you like.
I read it all. I refuted it all.
I say: Jacobsen's quotes of 1 Tim. 2:11-14 and 1 Cor. 14:34-35 were, answered by Miller.
Jacobsen says: In his link, Miller himself admits, "Due to the intense nature of the current debate about this subject, this section will simply NOT be able to deal with the manifold objections to my view." So, basically, from Holding's point of view, he has a link to an article that does some usual Christian bullsh** hand-waving, and pronounces, "case closed, nothing to see here, move along." What a jacka**.
That was a solid, detailed answer to Miller's pages-long arguments citing reputable, credentialed scholars. I'm impressed.
As I said, Miller already admits he doesn't answer "manifold objections" to his view. Why is it incumbent upon me to make it manifold+1 objections? For that matter, why is it incumbent upon me to answer every one of every elephant you may hurl, but you don't hold Miller to that same standard? Let Miller answer the manifold objections he already has and then get back to me. I shall not play hurl the elephant with you.
Indeed. Jacobsen just wants to be able to hurl the elephant himself, then he doesn't want to play anymore -- because he sees his opponent catching the elephant and hurling it back.
I say: "Jacobsen is also not informed concerning the pool of 'possible witnesses' which would include Jews from all over the Diaspora who came to visit Jerusalem at the same time the events recorded in the Gospels occurred - not just those killed in Jerusalem in 70. He also forgets that there were plenty of things Jesus did outside of Jerusalem."
Jacobsen says: Most notably however, we have NOTHING from any of those alleged witnesses. All the thousands of people Jesus supposedly healed, fed, etc. none left a single mark. Hmmm. Most curious indeed.
Curious? Not at all. 90-95% of these people cound not read or write and would leave no "mark" of any sort other than what the scribes of the day (like Luke and Mark, etc) would record. Nevertheless no one would claim that they were of no effect, especially in a society where excessive claims of honor would be immediately and unequivocally challenged.
Jacobsen then appeals to the Rational Responders' website and their presentation of Remsberg's List. We have already refuted that.
I say: "There is no 'bias' inherent in Evans idea that time was spent discussing beliefs. Indeed, far from being a 'like us' assumption, it is a case where the ancients were more inclined to something than we are. Socially, it would not only be natural, but expected in a collectivist setting, that the Christian social in-group would discuss their beliefs within a community setting and 'network' with one another."
Jacobsen says: Ah, sure, of course. That would explain why nobody ever joined a mystery religion, as they all had deep intellectual discussions on it and wisely decided that the mystery religions were myth. Oh, wait, that's false. The mystery religions were significant rivals to Christianity. Once again, Holding doesn't know sh** from Shinola.
Apparently, another answer composed with exceptional thoughtfulness. What I said above is not answered at all, and mystery religions involved inaccessible beliefs that had no connection to history, as Christian belief did with its historically crucified and resurrected man.
For one, you are making a circular argument, attempting to use Jesus' alleged historicity to confirm that the original Christians had some basis to work from in their alleged in-group discussions. And then you use the original Christians as evidence we are talking about real history!
What Jacobsen offers here is nothing but a prefab statement; there is no circularity here; I am addressing a specific point about the mystery religions and their nature, versus Christianity's nature. As for Jesus' "alleged historicity" I have voluminous articles on that, including on the silence thesis offered by Earl Doherty that Jacobsen imitates.
And even if I were to grant for sake of argument that we were talking about something that had some historical basis, you haven't shown any of these alleged in-group discussions actually happened. Or that 1st century Christian in-groups would be any better at ferreting out truth from fiction than any other in-group at any other time in history. And in-group discussions have never shown at any time anywhere to be a particularly good methodology to do so.
The collectivist social world of the NT, and the normal procedures of group dynamics, is all the "shown" needed to indicate that such discussions happened; it is up to Jacobsen to show that Christianity was somehow completely different than every other social group, especially of that time; it is up to him to show that they were bad at discerning truth from fiction (and merely saying "they believed in miracles" is not an argument to that effect), and he has no basis for claiming that ingroup discussion is not good methodology.
Challenge 2: "The Bible's Portrait of Jesus Can't Be Trusted because the Church Tampered with the Text" An interview with Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D.
Jacobsen's argument against Wallace to begin is misdirected: Yet I noticed that Strobel didn't mention anything about Wallace knowing Aramaic or Hebrew. Perhaps Wallace has studied those some; I don't know. But I expect that Strobel would have noted it if Wallace did have any specific expertise in these languages, since, in Challenge 1, Evans stressed the importance of Bible scholars knowing Hebrew and Aramaic.
Evans is clearly speaking within the context of scholars who study the historical Jesus and his setting. This is not Wallace's area of study; his specialty is textual criticism. In this specialty field it is not necessary for Wallace to know Hebrew or Aramaic.
It also does not, despite Jacobsen, give Ehrman any advantage over Wallace in the specific field of NT textual criticism.
Jacobsen: Christians don't accept that the original followers of any other religion are 100% truthful and reliable, but if I have similar doubts about Christianity then I'm committing some grievous crime worthy of eternal punishment?
Jacobsen may spare us the emotional excess; it is very doubtful that anyone's sin is limited to such simple matters as "doubts about Christianity." However, he can deal with our take on eternal punishment here.
Yes, as he puts it, going to "ultraconservative Christian schools" is a bad thing, or can be -- but more relevant to Ehrman, having an ultraconservative mind is (was) a bad thing. And they deserve to be addressed to Ehrman as well as the school he went to, though MBI actually doesn't teach as "ultraconservative" a view as Ehrman fell into.
Responding to Wallace's point about one error not spoiling the whole Bible as a source, any more than it would Josephus or Tacitus, Jacobsen says:
In one sense, this is exactly correct. If Josephus is found to be wrong about one detail, we don't then trash everything he says. But this isn't a good analogy, for Josephus isn't alleged to be the sole source of the straight scoop from God Himself on how to obtain eternal life! If I thought that there was the slightest possibility that Josephus had inside information on eternal salvation, I'd be pretty concerned about every possible error! If, however, I trust Josephus' report on something that Julius Caesar did, and he is wrong, the impact on me is negligible.
Jacobsen simply commits the same error that Wallace corrects. The point remains unchanged: One error does not spoil the whole, and each truth claim must be considered one at a time and evaluated. Jacobsen is, like Ehrman, behaving like a "fundamentalist atheist" who cannot abandon his presuppositions that one error would destroy the whole and put it all under suspicion. Indeed, his own personal testimomy shows that he thought the same way that Ehrman did.
It's a non sequitur to say that I can't trust the Bible in the minutiae of history, so therefore I can't trust it in matters of faith and practice. (p. 76)
In Strobel's earlier book, The Case for Christ, he argued that the Bible has been proven reliable in "the minutiae of history" and that is precisely why it can be trusted in matters of "faith and practice." But now he's saying, "Okay, so maybe it's not accurate in the minutiae of history, but you can still trust it in matters of faith and practice!" Well, which is it?
Apparently Jacobsen fails to see that while this matter can be argued positively, the negative form can not be. Rather, the matter becomes such as Wallace describes wherein claims must be treated and evaluated individually. Furthermore, Jacobsen regards the matter in "all or nothing" terms when in fact he would need to evaluate the text in terms of each author (eg, an error in Galatians does not affect Luke) and without concern for scale (eg, if Luke has one error, but is right on everything else, his reliability is still very high).
Wallace is quoted:
A couple of pages later, the issue about whether or not the Gospels portray the exact words of Jesus arises again: Historians of that day were trying to accurately get the gist of what was said. For example, it would take you no more than two hours to say all of Jesus' words in the Gospels. Well, that's not a very long time to speak. It only takes fifteen minutes to get through the Sermon on the Mount--but when Jesus delivered his sermons, people were often hungry at the end. I don't think Jesus gave fifteen-minute sermonettes for Christianettes. So the Gospels contain a summary of what he said. And if it's a summary, maybe Matthew used some of his own words to condense it. That doesn't trouble me in the slightest. It's still trustworthy.
Jacobsen first refers back to his arguments in Part 1, already addressed. Then Jacobsen arbitrarily sets the bar high as he says, He used Matthew as an example. Nowhere in the Book of Matthew does it even claim to be a depiction of actual events, and yet Wallace somehow has this divine insight that it is indeed accurate.
Wallace says nothing of the sort, and makes no "blanket statement"; he is addressing a claim that a certain way that Matthew presents matters can be regarded as inaccuracy. As for claiming to be a depicition of actual events: Matthew has written in the style of Greco-Roman biography, a form which says in and of itself, "I mean this to depict actual events."
Jacobsen says: I did find Wallace's estimation that the Bible contains roughly two hours' worth of Jesus' speech very illuminating. He further estimates that Jesus often talked for hours, so Jesus presumably preached for hundreds or even thousands of hours. And all we have is a measly two hours. Allegedly, this is God Himself, speaking on issues that He must have felt important enough to address, uttering hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours of speeches -- and all we have is two hours!
Since he does not know what else Jesus may have said, this is an "argument" based on non-knowledge. As a typical ancient teacher, the greatest likelihood is that Jesus repeated the same message many times, and that in the Gospels, we have the essential core and are missing nothing of import. Perhaps Jesus delivered the same moral messages in different words; but to object to a lack of the same core message would be misguided. Imagine all the things we might know today if Jesus really was God and we had more of his words? Maybe we would know whether God really has a problem with abortion or not.
That is already known; it is unquestionable that Jews of the first century universally disapproved of abortion, and this was not open to question at all. Further: The Bible isn't even clear on the requirements of salvation. The Bible is very clear on this.
We finally get to the matter of textual evidence, and Jacobsen accuses Wallace of being "misleading" in what says and offering to "straighten this mess out." In that he fails, because he misses the very critical point that Wallace's statistics for the NT must be viewed comparatively. Secular historians would give numerous limbs for the sort of evidence the NT has, which is far better than for any other document.
Jacobsen is aware of this, but having no good answer, resorts to the arbitrary declaration that "holy books" must be held to a different standard -- for no other reason than that his own contrived uncertainties demand it.
He claims, There are also large numbers of copies of the Buddhist Sutras and Islam's Koran, but Wallace doesn't mention that.
Why ought he to mention it? Jacobsen does not provide us with any arguments to support this alleged need; perhaps he can enlighten us in ways that more detailed studies cannot.
Despite his claim, Wallace does not "inflate his numbers" by counting fragments. Fragments are normally included in manuscript counts for all ancient documents. Jacobsen apparently has the idea that a "manuscript" is defined as any FULL copy of a work, which is incorrect.
Wallace is quoted: Mark 9:29 could impact orthopraxy, which is right practice, but not orthodoxy, which is right belief. Here Jesus says you can't cast out a certain kind of demon except by prayer--and some manuscripts add "and fasting." So if "and fasting" is part of what Jesus said, then here's a textual variant that affects orthopraxy--is it necessary to fast to do certain kinds of exorcisms? But seriously, does my salvation depend on that? (p. 89)
Jacobsen finds himself "astonished" by this, somehow getting from the above "how thoughtless Wallace is in regards to the salvation of the allegedly possessed person," though how that is gotten to is unknown. Getting an exorcism done is not a matter of salvation, so we are not really talking about saving someone from damnation.
Beyond this, as a preterist, I have no concern for demonic activity in the present and therefore nothing to be concerned about with respect to modern exorcism practice.
Jacobsen again brings in 1 Cor. 14:34-6 and 1 Tim. 2:11-14, which we addressed in the prior chapter.
Jacobsen's analysis of the adultery pericope is far too lacking in justification. "We like it" is not the sole reason for authenticity. He is also missing to the defining factor in the story: Because Rome held capital power, the challenge to Jesus was the same as the one in which he was presented with the question of paying taxes to Caesar. Hence Jacobsen's appeal to the OT is irrelevant.
There's not much need to address Jacobsen's extended objection about alleged those who were/are too confused by textual issues. He is not aware that there is no such thing as a "non-bodily resurrection." He also implies that all scribal changes were made with evil intent, but the only specific he offers has to do with the healed leper, and an issue we have answered (as has Wallace in a more depth report elsewhere):
Concerning the first text, a few ancient manuscripts speak of Jesus as being angry in Mark 1:41 while most others speak of him as having compassion. But in Mark 3:5 Jesus is said to be angry—wording that is indisputably in the original text of Mark. So it is hardly a revolutionary conclusion to see Jesus as angry elsewhere in this Gospel.
In addition, I have noted that Jesus' answer was perfectly justified:
The word "compassion" is sometimes rendered as meaning "angry" and it is supposed that the former is less embarrassing to Jesus. It isn't; Jesus had a perfect right to be perturbed. Jesus was preaching in sysnagogues and the man put him "on the spot" to get a healing. But this meant that Jesus would be seen as ritually impure; hence the admonition to say nothing, but the man gracelessly noised about the healing anyway, forcing Jesus to not be able to enter cities openly and continue his work (not because he was unclean in actuality, but because others would see him as so).
There is no evidence of evil intent by scribes here; if anything, it is likely that scribes misunderstood Jesus' intentions and thought "compassion" was what had been originally written.
I say: Jacobsen is wrong to say that "holy books" must be held to a different standard -- for no other reason than that his own manufactured uncertainties demand it.
Jacobsen says: Wrong again, nutjob. It’s the same reason ANY propaganda must be held to a different standard, as per what I quoted from Gottschalk:
The quote from Gottschalk accomplishes nothing for Jacobsen. Any demagogue can call any work reporting something they dislike or disagree with as "propaganda" and so the standard remains the same for all works -- not just "holy books" one disagrees with (aside from failing to argue, much less prove, that the "holy books" ARE merely propaganda).
Where does Gottschalk state that a work has to be "merely" propaganda to be suspect? Propagandists are well known for cherry-picking genuine facts for their agenda. For that reason, I have no reason to doubt that there are genuine facts within the Gospels; it's just a matter of being without any way to know what is what.
Jacobsen misuses Gottschalk to claim suspicion; and we can say in reply that dissidents are well known for making accusations of cherry-picking to cover a lack of substantive argument. Using labels like "propaganda" to mask lack of argument for an actual case is the norm in such cases.
Jacobsen thinks there is no exact formula to discern whether a work is fact or fiction -- well, we don't need an "exact formula". What we need is argument by cases.
But, as a simple exercise to illustrate my point, answer this: Name one non Judeo-Christian holy book that you consider to also be an accurate history of significant historical events recorded in the book and are recorded nowhere else. The Koran? The Book of Mormon? Name one.
Very few holy books even try to report history -- most consist of teachings (as even the Bible does) rather than reports of events. As is it, there's no need to limit the category to holy books.
I say: "Jacobsen apparently has the idea that a 'manuscript' is defined as any FULL copy of a work, which is incorrect."
Jacobsen says: Holding apparently doesn't know how to f***ing read. That is not what I said at all. What I said was: The fragmentary nature of the manuscripts helps inflate his numbers. For example, he may count a fragment of a few verses of John as a manuscript of the NT. No, it's not a manuscript of the NT; it’s a manuscript of those verses of John." That's what I said, and its 100% correct. Tough sh** for you, Holding.
What he said is exactly as I described it: He defines a "manuscript" as nothing less than a whole copy of a book, but not fragments. But fragments ARE manuscripts. Therefore his definition of "manuscript" is in error.
I say: "Getting an exorcism done is not a matter of salvation"
Jacobsen says: It's not, eh? So how exactly does one have an opportunity to accept Christ WHILE POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL?
It's not, no. Apparently Jacobsen thinks that being "possessed" means you're like the girl in The Exorcist and that you have no freedom to make choices. While this may have arguably been the case for a person like the Gadarene demoniac, even in the NT it is not typical, and it is just as well to claim that exorcism by the same logic is a matter of fashion, since it kept the demoniac from wearing clothes.
In other words, at least in some cases, I'm correct. That is sufficient to prove my point. But, in other cases, I guess Satan just hangs with your homies and checks out the ball game with you. If you happen to see Satan, tell him he can watch the Super-bowl at my place.
Jacobsen may take what victories he can claim; "in some cases" is not at all sufficient to prove the point, unless the person NEVER in their lives was not under control of a demon and had the ability to male a choice. As for Satan, he's hanging out in chains just now, and not possessing anyone, and hasn't since the first century; I'm a preterist.
I say: "He also seems to think that all scribal changes were made with evil intent"
Jacobsen says: Where does Holding get that from? I'm sure most scribal changes were done "trying to make it right".
If you think it was done to make legends grow, that was evil intent -- even if the scribe thought it was for the greater good to deceive people that way.
I'm saying that I suspect the motivations were probably the opposite, in order to prevent false legends, endeavoring to "clarify" what is said. But a scribe making a change in order to "clarify" something, whether he realizes it or not, then sets himself up as judge of what "really" happened. Thereby providing a methodology of growing a legend while intending to do the opposite. At any rate, whether you wish to term this as "evil" intent or not, be my guest. It is unimportant to me. The main point is that Ehrman provides good evidence these kinds of things happened. "Evil" or not, I don't care.
Nevertheless Jacobsen is not able to defend Ehrman from my rebuttals. Indeed Ehrman admits that in their contexts, the clarifications were not obscuring truth, but making it more clear in their contexts.
I like to use an example in my lessons of a very old Disney poster that has a picture of Mickey Mouse on it with the words "Always gay." Now if that poster were re-issued today, it would probably say something else like, "Always happy" so that there would be no misunderstanding from it that Mickey was said to be homosexual.
That is all that Ehrman can find in terms of the nature of scribal changes -- no creation of legends, indeed, just clarification of what the text really did mean originally for a new context in which words were given different meanings by those who abused the texts. Jacobsen's job is to show that a scribe exercised bad judgment as a judge.
I describe the healing of the leper and Jesus getting angry, using an answer derived from social science scholars Malina and Rohrbaugh. Jacobsen says:
What a complete load of bullsh**. In Mark 1:29-34, it tells of Jesus healing many, at the door of Simon and Andrew's house. Doesn't say that he didn't want to do healings there. Holding, didn't you bother to read just a few verses above, you complete ****ing moron? Besides, so what? Wouldn't anybody want to be cured of leprosy? Ooohh, the man put Jesus on the spot, oooh, bad man oooh...
Well, once again, all I can say is, that was a thorugh and relevant answer. We're wondering how people at the door of the house have any relevance to ritual purity, and what this has to do with anyone "wanting" to be cured of leprosy.
...your argument was that Jesus was annoyed about curing the man with leprosy due to some imagined issue with ritual purity. But that issue mysteriously doesn't apply when Jesus is doing healings at the door of Simon and Andrew's house.
Imagined issue? Hardly. There would be no issue at the door of someone's private residence, among his disciples who know he is ritually pure and cannot be "de-purified" by a leper's touch.
I say: "There is no evidence of evil intent by scribes here; the two words under consideration are so close in form that accidental transcription of the wrong word is the undoubted cause."
Jacobsen says: Nobody can prove whether it was a transcription error, or somebody intentionally wanted to "fix" what they though [sic] was an error. But what the **ck difference does it make? None.
Well, then, one wonders why Jacobsen even brought it up. Perhaps he just copied Ehrman uncritically because Ehrman said what he wanted to hear. Either way, it was Ehrman who propsed evil intent, as a way of covering up a flaw in Jesus' personality, so Jacobsen can tell him what the "**ck difference" it makes if he wants to.
I'm sure Ehrman will be suitably impressed by Jacobsen's mastery of scholarly vocabulary.
Challenge 3: "New Explanations Have Refuted Jesus' Resurrection" An interview with Michael Licona, M.A., Ph.D cand.
The picture I get of Jacobsen from his response to Licona's material is that he did not understand it. He responds to so little of it directly that I must conclude no other way.
- The claim that Licona's comments on Bayes' Theorem, re: the resurrection and Islamic ideas about the crucifixion, as "in direct contradiction" is widely errant. The former has to do with claims made by contemporaries and near-contemporaeies, that are uncontradicted by oppositional testimony; the latter, with claims made hundreds of years after the fact, against testimony by favorable (NT), equivocal (Josephus, Talmud) and hostile (Tacitus, Lucian) witnesses.
- Re the use of Gottschalk: "Conformity or agreement with other known historical or scientific facts is often the decisive test of evidence, whether of one or more witnesses."
Yes, Licona would probably charge him - rightly - with "methodological naturalism" though I myself would add that the dichotomy between natural and supernatural is an artificial one.
The answer to how we "prove" such things is simple: The way anything else is proven, by evidence. The reply that says "neither do we see resurrections today" and appeals to "initial probability" was defeated in Hume's own day by the "ice analogy" which compelled Hume to backtrack and soften his position.
- There is the standard appeal to conflicts in the Gospels which is answer by our series here. There are also rehearings of arguments from prior chapters on the genre of the Gospels; answers have been given already.
- Jacobsen suggests that not even the crucifixion of Jesus is an "indisputable fact". Testimony by the likes of Tacitus is dismissed in that it is possible they didn't do any research on the subject (which does not fit the mode of Tacitus at all, but presumably Jacobsen would simply say that while Tacitus normally did research, he may not have done it that one time).
He then appeals extensively to Carrier's material on Caesar's Rubicon crossing, which he does acknowledge we have addressed here though he seems unaware that we have replied to Carrier's second round, and he declines to engage the issue further.
- Jacobsen's plea re the criterion of embarrassment, that "you can't know this without being able to read the author's mind," is simply fmisinformed. Scholarship has a grip on the social setting of the NT; Jacobsen's appeal to the possibility of a "plot device" is clearly ad hoc, and an indication that he does not have evidence to present - and this is also shown in that he openly declares that given a choice between the swoon theory and the resurrection, he would go to the former.
- His understanding of atonement theory and the Trinity ("is it really less likely than that the Christian God sacrificed Himself to Himself and then resurrected Himself in order to change His own rules") is badly misinformed.
The resort to implying that Licona may be a liar in recounting his anecdote of a friend, and his constant resort to the explanation of a "plot device," is highly dishonorable.
- Jacobsen's exegesis of Matthew 5:38-42 is also off the mark badly. See links here for each verse.
- Re the issues about Christian morals, I will address one that I know well: "Christians make up 75% of the U.S. population, but 90% of the U.S. prison population."
This is simply false; I did an article for the Christian Research Journal on this subject. This, combined with my own experience as a prison employee, belies this claim. For one thing, many states simply do not have valid statistics, so there is no grounds for such a report in the first place. For another, those that do have stats show a range of professions for Christianity UP TO 90% in each state, but not in all states that report.
Finally, Jacobsen is unaware of the fact that prison inmates profess faiths for many reasons other than true belief: 1) It permits special visits. 2) It often allows certain privileges, including breaks from normal work schedules, or the ability to "stand out" in a crowd of people who dress and live the same every day. 3) The religious buildings have AIR CONDITIONING. 4) When filling out forms, most don't know they can leave the question of religion blank. 5) The religious buildings have AIR CONDITIONING. 6) The religious buildings have AIR CONDITIONING.
- Jacobsen's arguments about persecution are too simplistic; see here and note that we have already answered Carrier's retorts in full.
- Jacobsen thinks "most Christians do not think it was a physical visitation" Paul had from Jesus. Whatever they may think, it is wrong. 1 Cor. 15 is Paul's indication that he saw a physically resurrected Jesus. The use of the word "vision" has Jacobsen misled; the word used means an appearance and does not invoke any semantic content of a subjective experience. On hallucination, see here.
I say the claim that Licona's comments on Bayes' Theorem, re: the resurrection and Islamic ideas about the crucifixion, as 'in direct contradiction' is false. The former has to do with claims made by contemporaries…
Jacobsen says: Wrong again, sh**-for-brains. Licona is obviously referring to INITIAL PROBABILITIES when he says: "Bayes' Theorem requires that you plug in certain background knowledge into the equation, such as the probability that God would want to raise Jesus from the dead. I'm sure you'd agree that probabilities like that are inscrutable."
Once again, this appears to be a sensible answer. It is not surprising that Jacobsen doesn't finish my sentence: ...and near-contemporaries, that are uncontradicted by oppositional testimony; the latter, with claims made hundreds of years after the fact, against testimony by favorable (NT), equivocal (Josephus, Talmud) and hostile (Tacitus, Lucian) witnesses.
I say: "appeals to 'initial probability' was defeated in Hume's own day by the 'ice analogy':"
Jacobsen says: Its kinda cute how Holding wants you to think he read (doubtful) and understood (impossible) Hume.
I did, and I did, and I came to the same conclusions as did professor of history and philosophy of science John Earman (not a Christian, by the way), as noted here.
At any rate, if the concept of initial probability was defeated, you might tell that to Licona--he's the one that brought up Bayes Theorem, you heaping steam of sh**-for-brains. A
nd this is relevant how? I'm not simply talking about "initial probability" being defeated here; I'm talking about something more, as shown by my whole quote: The canard that says "neither do we see resurrections today" and appeals to "initial probability" was defeated in Hume's own day by the "ice analogy" which compelled Hume to backtrack and soften his position.
The issue is not merely initial probability but what we experience -- it's not hard to see why Jacobsen quotes only part of what I say.
Besides, if you were to want more evidence if I claimed that I flapped my arms and flew to the store than if I claimed I walked to the store, you affirm the concept of initial probability and Bayes Theorem.
"More evidence"? I don't need any evidence that Jacobsen walked to the store because I don't care if he did or not. But I might need more if I did care: Such as someone else seeing him get there. And that's also what we'd need for verification of flight as well.
Even so, the point is that I can't dismiss the flight based on Hume's criteria of "I didn't see it" or "no one I know has seen it." That is purely subjective and has no basis in epistemology. Rather, what must be weighed is such things as Jacobsen's explanation for how he managed flight, and the authority of the witnesses.
Epistemically, there is no difference between 50 witnesses who say they say Jacobsen walking to the store and 50 who say they saw him flying. Their testimony is equally invalidated if they admit they were actually too far away to see that it was Jacobsen they saw. And so on. The rules of evidence don't change because of Jacobsen's arbitrary demands, or because Carl Sagan makes up a rule about "extraordinary claims" with no precedence or authority in a court of law.
The rules of evidence are also not changed just because we have an interest or stake in what happens and the rules of evidence are not arbitrarily raised to a higher bar just because you have a higher stake.
Jacobsen repeats his errors about Tacitus telling his sources. If this is true then one wonders why these Tacitean scholars are so opposed to Jacobsen's views:
Martin [Mart.Tac, 211] , though noting difficulties about discerning Tacitus' exact sources, says that "It is clear, then, that Tacitus read widely and that the idea that he was an uncritical follower of a single source is quite untenable."
Dudley [Dud.Tac, 29] notes that despite problems in discerning what sources Tacitus used, "it may be said with some confidence that the view that Tacitus followed a single authority no longer commands support."
The Taciteans agree that Tacitus used sources, of course:
Mellor [Mell.Tac, 20, 45] observes that although he made use of other sources, including friends like Pliny, Tacitus "does not slavishly follow, as some of his Roman predecessors did, the vagaries of his sources." He adds (ibid., 31-2) that, "If research is the consultation and evaluation of sources, there can be little doubt that Tacitus engaged in serious research though it is not often apparent in the smooth flow of his narrative." Tacitus "consulted both obscure and obvious sources," and "distinguishes fact from rumor with a scrupulosity rare in any ancient historian."
Benario [Benar.Tac, 87] tells us that Tacitus "chose judiciously among his sources, totally dependent upon none, and very often, at crucial points, ignored the consensus of his predecessors to impose his own viewpoint and his own judgment."
...but to say as Jacobsen does that "HE TELLS US OF HIS SOURCES" is overall not true, even if it is in caps. If it is not so, then perhaps Jacobsen can find the sources told of in the quote above from the Annals, since they seem to be missing.
My finding is that Tacitus mainly reveals sources when there is a conflict, or something for which he does not wish to vouch; but he does not name sources for things that he is confident in reporting as fact.
I am glad that Jacobsen compares the matter to Caesar using the bathroom, however, since that would be common knowledge that would require no research -- no more so that would common knowledge that Jesus existed, as I say in my article on Tacitus.
Jacobsen says: Also of note, the only reason we have any of Tacitus' writings is that parts were preserved by two different Christian monasteries. And yet, neither of them retained Tacitus' writing about the years 29-31, years that presumably could have mentioned Jesus' ministry and execution. Imagine that...
This is unlike serious scholars, who do not "imagine" some conspiracy involving the manuscripts of Tacitus or groundless suspicions when the actual data fails them.
It seems far more likely that the writings about the years 29-31 were lost long before the monasteries got hold of them; such would fit the pattern of numerous other ancient works. We are also missing parts of Tacitus that cover other years between Augustus and Domitian -- were there embarrassing things about Jesus in those parts too? Or maybe we can hypothesize that there was good stuff about Jesus in them and that Julian the Apostate destroyed it all.
Tellingly, Jacobsen drops all the stuff about Tacitus above up til this paragraph, and even then just isolates the point about monastaries (especially failing to quote the part about how scholars don't contrive this sort of conspiracy theory), and says:
Once again, we get a double-standard from Holding, where he can just suppose that the writings of those two years were lost purely coincidentally and accidentally, without a shred of evidence. But if I suggest the possibility it wasn't such an accident, oh, well, then I gotta prove it to the n'th degree. Holding's speculations are pure gold, but any guesswork that doesn't support Holdings position is condemned. The fact of the matter is that the coincidence of the missing years just happens to be the years that would be where you would expect to find references to Jesus IS suspicious. Not even you could be buying your own nonsense, can you?
Claiming a "double standard" is merely rhetorcial. I have no double standard here; I am using the explanation that fits the data for all ancient works that have been lost -- they have been lost not due to conspiracy, but because of accident or neglect. This is the standard from scholarship, and it is up to Jacobsen as one who dissents to explain why he should be believed over credible scholars. Jacobsen's appeal to "coincidence" is of no effect.
Re what I said of mind-reading, Jacobsen says: Bullsh**. You CAN NOT KNOW another person's thoughts and motivations, particularly someone dead 2000 years.
Well, then, I suppose serious scholars like Malina and Rohrbaugh are wasting their time, then, and should all concede to Jacobsen's I pointed this out, and that Scholarship has a grip on the social setting of the NT but Jacobsen didn't answer (or even quote) that.
Okay, I quoted you on that. Can you die happy now? Having a "grip on the social setting" doesn't give you mind reading powers. One would think that someone of even Holding's limited faculties could grasp that. I have a fair grasp on today's social setting, but I don't have mind reading capabilities of anybody.
It seems Jacobsen has no answer for scholars like Malina and Rohrbaugh. Accusations of "mind reading powers" are the refuge of those who lack the informed counsel to provide an actual answer.
I say: "he openly declares that given a choice between the swoon theory and the resurrection, he would go to the former."
Jacobsen says: So? If you were given the choice between swoon theory and the resurrection was faked by an evil alien cloned twin of Jesus, you'd go with the swoon theory, right?
I'd go with neither, because both are demonstrably false, the latter as shown here. Jacobsen thinks I am dodging the question by not saying which I prefer. That's called a "false dilemma".
The idea that God would sacrifice himself to himself to change his own rules is asinine.... (And, yes, my one-sentence summary of Christian theology is correct, despite lame protestations to the contrary.)
It is? No, it's wrong; first for its incorrect rendition of the Trinity ("himself to himself" is Oneness theology, not Trinitarianism) and no rules were changed - loyalty to YHWH is still the rule.
I say: "the resort to implying that Licona may be a liar in recounting his anecdote of a friend…"
Jacobsen says: Oooh, bad me. I'm so evil for suggesting Licona might be exaggerating. Of course, I ALSO READILY CONCEDED I COULD BE WRONG.
And so on. Either way, Jacobsen clearly wants to be able to insinuate that someone is a liar for the advantage.
And Holding wants to call people liars with no hesitation or qualification. More Holding hypocrisy and double standards. Please Holding, bury yourself some more. Go ahead.
I proved Jacobsen's dissimilitude amply. Playing the role of wounded martyr is not a disproof.
Challenge 4: "Christianity's Beliefs About Jesus Were Copied from Pagan Religions" Interview with Edwin M. Yamauchi, Ph.D.
Jacobsen does not go as far as the likes of Acharya S on this subject, so for the most part, he doesn't have any issues with this chapter. He does however claim that "Strobel and Yamauchi did not adequately address whether Christianity may have been influenced to a lesser degree by other belief systems."
Strobel is also not using Brown to argue that "originality implies authenticity of Christianity." He is only using Brown to argue against those who claim copying as an argument against authenticity.
More importantly, Yamauchi admits that a parallel legend, specifically a legend of a deity impregnating a woman & fathering a child who is eventually worshipped, predates Christianity by hundreds of years! (336 BC was the date given by Yamauchi.) Further, note that there is a parallel of a dream: In the account of Alexander, the mother is foretold of the event in a dream, and in Matthew, Joseph is told in a dream that Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Looks like a parallel to me!
Does it? That's only because Jacobsen collapses down terms ("impregnating," "worshipped," "a dream") while ignoring the vast differences in the stories. I have shown the error of such argumentation here and here.
It is true that Jesus' virgin birth was not based on lust. However, it is worth noting that the OT has incidents of spiritual beings, if not God Himself, lusting after and impregnating humans. As an example, take the Nephilim in Genesis. Although the scripture in Genesis is lacking details and open to several interpretations, one of the more common interpretations is that the Nephilim were the offspring of human women and spiritual creatures created by God (perhaps like angels) that lusted after the women. It is a similar idea, even if not identical.
And this relates to Jesus how?
One of the claims made by the authors is that some of the alleged pagan parallels to Christianity occurred after the origin of Christianity, which would disprove them. Yamauchi claims that most of the evidence of parallels to pagan religions dates to the second century or later. I'd like to remind him that ALL of the evidence of Christianity dates to the second century and later! The first scrap of a manuscript we have dates to the second century. Of course I understand that the originals of the NT documents were written in the first century, but if the original Christian documents were written before the earliest copies we have, then it is reasonable to conclude that the original pagan works were also written before the earliest copies of them we have!
Jacobsen claims there is some "double standard" at work because one interviewee touts the "early" copies of the NT in the second century, and then another interviewee dismisses possible pagan influence because the copies of the pagan documents we have are too "late" because they are from the second century!
He is forgetting that the former matter is one that is comparative (the NT versus other documents) whereas the latter is not.
The story of Osiris is an example of collapsing of terms to force a parallel, just as I did with Lincoln and Kennedy.
Jacobsen admits his lack of awareness of addresses to Acharya. I then say: That's only because Jacobsen collapses down terms ("impregnating," "worshipped," "a dream") while ignoring the vast differences in the stories.
Jacobsen says: And I already conceded very big differences in the stories. So?
So, Jacobsen wants to create parallels with vague, general language and out of timeless elements; you can point these out all you want, but they mean nothing in terms of dependence.
In your previous rebuttal to me, you made use of the parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy. Derrick Bennett sent me a more detailed response to this, which I shall use:
Derrick Bennett is far from a trustworthy or reliable source. In a debate on TheologyWeb, he engaged in little but the same sort of linguistic equivocation and frequently spoke out of both sides of his mouth when defending his views.
What we are essentially talking about here is the critical difference between matters of superficial COINCIDENCE and matters of genuine INFLUENCE.
For instance, you cannot possibly pin Lincoln's presidential election in the year 1860 as having influenced JFK's being elected in 1960. Lincoln's assassinator didn't influence JFK's assassinator to do the same on a Friday. These are purely matters of coincidence -- NOT influence.
Sure, but Skeptics like Bennett can always CLAIM there is influence, even without evidence. The heart of these sorts of theories is to point to the similarity and say, "INFLUENCE!" We can do the same thing just as easily with Lincoln/Kennedy -- with as much validation.
Religion, on the other hand, is like any other manmade phenomena. It is highly subject to influence. Language is a perfect analogy. There are commonalities between English, Spanish, German, French and Italian because they are all linguistically rooted in Greek, Latin and other ancient languages.
So the logic is -- what?
1) Where manmade phenomena are concerned, similarity is always the result of influence.
2) Religion is a manmade phenomenon.
3) Therefore, any similarities are because of influence.
Hmm --- isn't history a manmade phenomenon? Aren't Presidential elections manmade? Then why isn't that date correspondence a case of influence?
With that in mind, consider Martin A. Larson's brilliant summary of the historical development of Christianity:
Martin Larson was a fringe author with no relevant credentials in the field of Biblical scholarship. Bennett quotes a paragraph of his claiming influence from various figures like Osiris...see here.
Jacobsen also quotes Earl Doherty:
One major factor is the nature of the data being paralleled. There is a great difference between the data in the JFK/Lincoln case and the data in the Jesus/savior gods case.
Each of the features attributed to Jesus and the other deities we can identify as serving a purpose, and they all form part of a coherent whole within the framework of mythical expression. The same is not true of the data in regard to JFK and Lincoln. None of the elements show any purpose at all, neither for elevating status nor casting some significance on the lives of the figures.
No purpose? Of course they show purpose. All of them were imitations intended to show that JFK was just like Lincoln, only better.
Doherty says, There is a big difference between being born in a given year and being born miraculously. The latter has theological significance whereas the former does not.
That's simple to answer: The gods arranged it so that JFK was born in that precise year he was, in order to establish that he was Lincoln's rightful heir. Or maybe the historians purposely said he was born that year. And what about all those other parallels? Such as that both died before a major holiday (but Lincoln died before a better one, Easter, which connected him to Jesus)?
In sum: The whole "copycat" case consists of making up connections, equivocating on terms (which is what Geering does with his bit on "resurrection" and "salvation"). And even if Doherty is right, none of this changes that it is the method of making comparisons, and then assigning them validity, that is under criticism.
We say most of the parallels drawn between Jesus and eg, Osiris are one of two things, mainly: 1) just plain false; 2) cases of equivocation (as with his "resurrection"). But a few such parallels are also coincidence -- a very small number, actually.
But, Holding has nothing left in his tiny bag of tricks to rely upon, but to say, "oh, but MY theology (read: mythology) is DIFFERENT" Bullsh**.
Really? Why? Unfortunately, it seems "bovine excrement" is about all the answer Jacobsen can provide....credentialed scholarship isn't coming soon in his sourcework.
I say: Jacobsen claims there is some "double standard" at work because one interviewee touts the "early" copies of the NT in the second century, and then another interviewee dismisses possible pagan influence because the copies of the pagan documents we have are too "late" because they are from the second century. He is forgetting that the former matter is one that is comparative (the NT versus other documents) whereas the latter is not.
Jacobsen says: And the point is...? Oh, wait, he has none. My point stands. His response is meaningless.
As we can see, he answered in great detail. Re Jacobsen thinking the doctrine of the trinity wasn't established until the Counsel of Nicaea in the year 325, he says: There were many schools of thought. People who disagreed with the trinity were killed off or otherwise labeled as heretics. Of course so were the people who AGREED with the trinity. Those that agreed with the trinity won out, and it became formally established at the Counsel of Nicaea
This doesn't help answer my detailed article linked to in there on the subject. Jacobsen's answer says nothing of matters like like pre-Christian hypostatic Wisdom, or anything else that was a precursor to Trinitarian doctrine.
Challenge 5: "Jesus was an Imposter Who Failed to Fulfill the Messianic Prophecies" An Interview with Michael L. Brown, Ph.D.
Jacobsen is unaware of the principles of interpretation explained by Miller here, so it is errant to object to OT prophecies not being "clear" or "specific" enough or being able to be "verified" -- see also here).
Matthew had obviously read the passage in Zechariah to mean that the messiah will be riding on two donkeys. He had actually made Jesus sit on the two animals at the same time! (Try to imagine this!) Note that the last sentence, Jesus sat on them, is not just an oversight on Matthew's part, for he had deliberately altered the whole episode to include two animals (the donkey and its colt). I have italicized the portion where Matthew had changed the singular in Mark to the plural when referring to the animals.
The plural refers to the cloaks (plural) placed on the animals and not the animals themselves. See more here.
Jacobsen is unaware of the nature of Jewish monotheism which permitted recognition of Jesus as part of the divine identity (see here).
He defines exegesis as "an exercise in forcing Biblical passages to say what you want them to mean, using scholarly-sounding practices like linguistics to make it look like something real is being done." I think this speaks for itself in terms of the quality of Jacobsen's credibility and scholarship.
Holding complains about my prophesy qualifications. Well, of course, he has to. Otherwise, he'd have to admit he's got no case. My qualifications for accepting a prophesy stands.
Because he says so, and that's enough?
No, not because I say so. I said in my original paper that there is room for debate about exactly what criteria to use for validating a prophesy. But Holding didn't debate or offer anything constructive, he just naysayed. Give us some alternate validation procedure and show us why yours is better. I can say that the criteria I gave are at least roughly what anybody would want when trying to ascertain whether a prophesy is valid or not-unless said person has some agenda in wanting to believe a prophesy is valid. Do you have something better to offer or just naysay?
How about: A prophecy is shown valid if it is true and done before the fact?
I say: In regards to the donkey and colt in Matthew: It apparently does not occur to Jacobsen that the plural refers to the cloaks (plural) placed on the animals and not the animals themselves.
Jacobsen says (after crediting Tobin, for his error): Even if that meant the plural of the cloaks, the reason there were two cloaks is because there were two animals, so it still comes out to meaning he road [sic] on both animals!
No, unless Jacobsen thinks there was just a crowd of two people offering cloaks, one per animal, which would be pretty odd.
You could plausibly claim the "them" being referred to by Matthew are the cloaks of the animals. But the cloaks referred to *in that sentence* are the cloaks on the two animals. Whether there are other animals or cloaks or god-men or unicorns or evil alien clones hanging around at the same time isn't the topic of the sentence in question. So you still don't get anywhere with your foolishness.
I can find nothing of a coherent rebuttal in this paragraph. Apparenly Jacobsen is saying he concedes the point and wants to change the subject.
But, as Tobin notes, it is curious that Matthew deliberately changed Mark's singular to plural, which just so happens to be what Zechariah seems to prophesy if you don't read it right. Hmmm, strange how that worked out, isn't it? Not if you understand Jewish exegesis it isn't. News flash: Jacobsen doesn't, but I'm sure if he snorts a few more gallons of freon he'll be more proficient at it than Richard Longenecker.
Jacobsen says: Holding doesn't comment on any of my additional arguments, such as how Brown all but admits the virgin birth prophesy is no such thing, I have links for that on the hub page. how nobody could have verified Mary's virginity even if it did happen; I say as much in my own article on the VB. how Martin Luther's anti-Semitic teachings were popularized and utilized by the Nazis to justify the holocaust, etc. That's nice. How about how Darwin's teachings were used to justify slavery and communism by a few wackos? That proves what? Is Jacobsen too chicken to write about that?
Challenge 6: "People Should be Free to Pick and Choose What to Believe About Jesus" An interview with Paul Copan, Ph.D.
Jacobsen objects that Copan ignores his counter-arguments, which he does know about; but we ourselves replied. That said, the chapter subject is outside my scope of expertise, other than to note:
- Jacobsen needs to answer specific points about Midian found here.
- Jacobsen's understanding of the atonement is ill-informed, as is his view of hell.
Jacobsen says that he hasn't read Miller's article yet, but he quotes one sentence and thinks that it proves moral relativism. Apparently he doesn't think moral absolutes have different weights, so we'll be left to wonder how he deals with Jews in his cellar when the time comes.
As a matter of fact, no, I don't think moral absolutes have different weights. That's kinda why they are called absolutes, Einstein.
The mere use of a term establishes an epistemology. So how about the Jews in the cellar then? Which absolute do you follow? 1) Preserve human life. 2) Tell the truth.
At any rate, how come you only bring up alleged moral weights about things like "thou shalt not commit murder" when it happens to be ordered by God? That one doesn't work.
Just a few notes in close.
Many Christians assert that if there was no Resurrection, Roman authorities would have been quick to produce Jesus' body as conclusive evidence that Jesus was still dead. Let's imagine that this happened. What would have been the result? Would the apostles have been so demoralized that the movement would have died in its tracks?
...is answered, "yes," because it would have cut off any possibility of further conversions. More fervency by the apostles would have only caused them to be regarded as all the more marginal and deviant. The apostles may still have stuck to their guns, but they would have been all that would have been the movement, as it weas formulated.
I say: Jacobsen's referral to Cialdini is interesting, but he'd have to show us that the book's findings apply in an agonistic social setting.
Jacobsen says: Oooh, Holding used a big word, "agonistic", he must know something really important! Actually, it's up to Holding to prove they don't. We're talking about basic human behavior, that has been shown through history over and over again. Why don't you and Dr. Cialdini talk it over and see who knows what they are talking about and who has their head up their a**? I think I have a suspicion who is who in that fight.
Well, I may as well throw in the towel then. I wonder also what happened to the common Skeptical claim that the burden is on he who asserts. Jacobsen is the one who asserted relevance -- and didn't prove it.
I did prove my own point of a difference, by the way, in articles I have all over the site, such as this one. It is the claim of the perpetually sequestered that "basic human behavior" is the same all over.
Correct. Christians are the ones that assert that had the Romans pulled out a corpse of Jesus, that would have left the movement demoralized and quashed. I provided evidence that isn't necessarily what happens in similar situations so it is up to you to show that your situation deserves special pleading.
What evidence? Jacobsen provided no evidence; he merely contrived scenarios with no supporting documentation or scholarship or reason to accept a parallel.